TIME Culture

The Best Halloween Movies Streaming Right Now

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Watch 22 of the spookiest thrillers on the Internet

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

It’s movie night, people. It’s dark, it’s chilly, and we’re three weeks out from Halloween. You have an Internet full of streaming spooky thrillers — but how can you possibly pick? Listen, picking the right movie is very important. Like choosing which college to attend or what to name your child, you don’t want to end up with something you’ll regret for the rest of your life.

Don’t freak out yet — you’ve got this. We’ve assembled 22 of the best scary movies currently streaming on Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, and Amazon Prime. We’ve broken them down into a super-simple guide to help you figure out the perfect movie to watch based on your mood, platform, and the crowd you’re watching with.

It’s the first Saturday in October. And, life is short, so make this one count. That means taking off your going-out shoes, and parking it on the couch. Now, you just need to find the perfect sweatpants to change into. You can do this.

The Craft

  • What Happens: Four girls dabble in witchcraft and overalls. Hijinks ensue.
  • How Scary Is It: If you’re creeped out by snakes, run.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You miss chokers and Fairuza Balk.
  • Where Can I Find It: Crackle, Amazon Prime.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Your lady friends and wine and some more wine.

The Moth Diaries

  • What Happens: Sexy new girl comes to boarding school and makes it rain blood. Roommate has trouble adjusting.
  • How Scary Is It: Like all vampires, these are way too emo to scare anyone.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You’re into vampires but can’t stand Twilight or True Blood.
  • Where Can I Find It: Hulu.
  • Who Do I Watch With: A friend you might like to be more than a friend. Or a friend you might like to rain blood upon. Either way, this’ll get you in the mood.

Carrie

  • What Happens: Best. Prom. Ever.
  • How Scary Is It: Mean girls, first periods, AND telekinesis? This one’s not for wimps.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You’ve been royally screwed and feel like burning down someone’s house, dropping the mic, and leaving.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix, Amazon Prime.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Your high school BFF (the one who got picked on by Casey R., too).

Rosemary’s Baby

  • What Happens: Couple’s new apartment might be next door to Satan worshippers, but it has two bathrooms and a working fireplace, so…
  • How Scary Is It: Enough to make you move to the suburbs.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You’ve never seen this before and are sick of everyone bugging you about it (but seriously get on this ASAP. What is your problem?).
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: The understanding that you probably cannot pull of this haircut.

The Human Centipede: First Sequence

  • What Happens: Google it.
  • How Scary Is It: I mean, did you Google it?
  • Why Should I Watch It: Someone double-dog dared you to.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and ideally, the smallest screen possible.
  • Who Do I Watch With: A barf bag.

American Psycho

  • What Happens: Businessman has a real case of the Mondays.
  • How Scary Is It: As scary as the face Christian Bale is making here.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You’re into sex, drugs, and murdering hookers with chainsaws.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: A dude.

(MORE: “Let Her Go!” Or, Every Action Movie Ever)

Antichrist

  • What Happens: Couple loses their child and somehow things get worse from there.
  • How Scary Is It: Well, there’s really no PG version of genital self-mutilation is there?
  • Why Should I Watch It: You’ve seen Lars Von Trier and you know what you’re getting into.
  • Where Can I Find It: Hulu, Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Someone who won’t mind when you ask to turn it off and watch I Love Lucy reruns instead.

Candyman

  • What Happens: Woman doesn’t believe in ghosts. We don’t want to spoil it for you but she might be wrong.
  • How Scary Is It: Good luck sleeping tonight/ever!
  • Why Should I Watch It: This scared the bejeesus out of you as a kid but, damn it, you’re a grown-up now. Bring it, Candyman.
  • Where Can I Find It: Crackle, Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: No one, if you’re such a big, tough, grown-up. (JK, never watch this with less than five people.)

The Gift

  • What Happens: Local psychic is pulled into a murder investigation where Keanu Reeves is the prime suspect. Seriously.
  • How Scary Is It: Imagine getting startled by a car backfiring outside, over and over again, for two hours.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You want to be scared by Cate Blanchett’s killer performance and amused by Katie Holmes’ horrrrrrible southern accent.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Katie Holmes, ideally. Just so you can ask her to translate.

Cropsey

  • What Happens: The boogeyman is real, you guys.
  • How Scary Is It: The truth of this tale is far more horrific than the fiction.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You grew up locking your bedroom window, lest Cropsey come in and kidnap you.
  • Where Can I Find It: Crackle, Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Your friend who’s too cool for anything but documentaries.

The Lady Vanishes

  • What Happens: The lady vanishes.
  • How Scary Is It: Well, it’s not Antichrist, but it’s not Sesame Street either.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You’re in a Hitchcock mood.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Your dad, because he’s been bugging you to watch this for, like, ever.

(MORE: The Not-So-Sexy Way Hollywood Makes Sex Scenes)

Scream

  • What Happens: Town is terrorized by serial killer who does NOT care for Drew Barrymore movies.
  • How Scary Is It: It was written by the same guy who created Dawson’s Creek. It’s about as scary as Dawson’s was serious and important: EXTREMELY.
  • Why Should I Watch It: Your mom didn’t let you watch it when it came out but you did anyway, then spent the next four months refusing to answer the phone.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Your mom on speed dial, because she was right — you’re not mature enough to handle this.

The Blair Witch Project

  • What Happens: “Filmmakers” “investigate” a “local legend” in this “documentary.”
  • How Scary Is It: It was meh back then, but with the passage of time it’s still pretty meh.
  • Why Should I Watch It: Back in the day, your friend told you this was real and you’d like to see just what an idiot you were for believing him.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix, Amazon Prime.
  • Who Do I Watch With: That same jerk friend, ideally. Make him pay for the pizza and beer.

Repulsion

  • What Happens: Woman spends all weekend in her pajamas, but it’s not as awesome as it sounds.
  • How Scary Is It: As scary as the insidious threat of misogyny endemic to contemporary culture. Also, WTF, there are hands coming out of the walls!
  • Why Should I Watch It: You’re feeling more psychological-thriller than pop-out-and-scare-you. Also, if you’d like to see Catherine Deneuve manage to look super cute while going cuh-razy.
  • Where Can I Find It: Crackle.
  • Who Do I Watch With: The film major you’re trying to impress.

Single White Female

  • What Happens: Bridget Fonda’s roommate just wants to hang out. Why is she being so weird about it?
  • How Scary Is It: It’s tough to beat mid-90s Jennifer Jason Leigh in terms of creepiness.
  • Why Should I Watch It: Your roommate sucks and you’re looking for justification to kick her out.
  • Where Can I Find It: Hulu, Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Your roommate. Maybe she’ll take the hint. Or she’ll try to kill you. Still, it’s worth a shot.

House on Haunted Hill

  • What Happens: Rich guy pits strangers against each other for his own amusement because he doesn’t have a job and his jet ski’s in the shop.
  • How Scary Is It: I think the mustache speaks for itself, here.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You secretly miss haunted houses.
  • Where Can I Find It: Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Someone who definitely won’t kill you for $10,000.

(MORE: 20 Twist Endings We WON’T Spoil For You)

The Silence of the Lambs

  • What Happens: Newbie FBI agent is just trying to catch a killer and not get her face eaten off, thankyouverymuch.
  • How Scary Is It: The creepy, British cannibal is actually a good guy compared to the film’s real villain.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You’re down for some cannibalism as long as it’s classy cannibalism.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Some fava beans, a nice chianti, and the lotion in the basket.

Zodiac

  • What Happens: Serial killer taunts the police with cryptic letters and ciphers because it’s not enough to just kill a bunch of people.
  • How Scary Is It: Imagine a really, really long episode of Law & Order: SVU.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You’re into unsolved mysteries and dudes in flared jeans.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Susan Miller.

V/H/S

  • What Happens: Kids find a dead guy and a VHS tape and they’re all, “Holy shit, a VHS tape!”
  • How Scary Is It: The scares are cheap but they get the job done.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You have a thing for “found footage” and a short attention span.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix, Amazon Prime.
  • Who Do I Watch With: A wide-mesh sweater you can hide inside but still look through.

Children of the Corn

  • What Happens: Kids run a successful farming community despite complete lack of bedtimes.
  • How Scary Is It: Uh, are you seeing this kid?
  • Why Should I Watch It: You’re scared of children IRL.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix, Amazon Prime.
  • Who Do I Watch With: Two forms of birth control.

The Glass House

  • What Happens: Kids lose their mom and dad in a car accident, but it’s cool because their godparents have a sick beach house.
  • How Scary Is It: As scary as browsing a delia*s catalogue in the dark.
  • Why Should I Watch It: You totally forgot about Leelee Sobieski.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: A sense of irony.

Funny Games

  • What Happens: Teenagers are the worst.
  • How Scary Is It: If you have to ask…
  • Why Should I Watch It: You are NOT messing around.
  • Where Can I Find It: Netflix.
  • Who Do I Watch With: The door locked, the lights on, and strong will to live, because this movie will effectively destroy your faith in humanity.

Happy Halloween!

TIME Food & Drink

7 Beers to Try This October

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Prost, folks!

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Oktoberfest, originally a celebration honoring the marriage of German nobles, has become virtually synonymous with brews. In past years, the event has drawn a whopping seven million visitors and served almost two million gallons of beer over the span of 16 or 17 days.

(MORE: The Boozy Secret To A DIY Ombré Dye)

That’s a lot of suds. Stateside, Oktoberfest also seems to reinforce that imminent seasonal shift in beer tastes, especially when it comes to what’s on tap. Hoppy IPAs and super-crisp pilsners are swapped out for maltier fare, and just as pumpkin spice lattes fill Starbucks cups nationwide, so, too, do pumpkin ales fill our pint glasses. So, in seeking to honor Oktoberfest (as well as the changing of the seasons), we tapped, poured, tipped, and sipped in order to bring you autumn’s best beers — including a traditional German Oktoberfest, a not-so-traditional California style, and that fall favorite, pumpkin ale. Prost, folks!

(MORE: Young America’s Vices: Beer, Fast Food, & Coffee)

  1. Left Hand Oktoberfest
    Brewed in Denver, Left Hand’s top-notch Oktoberfest plays beautifully right alongside the more traditional German brews. On the nose, you’ll find sweet, orange-peel notes, but this Märzen is toasty through and through, with a super-smooth finish.
  2. Firestone Walker Brewing Company Oaktoberfest
    Yes, this is an Oktoberfest from California (the oak in the name pays homage to the brewery’s home in Paso Robles, or “pass of the oaks”). But that doesn’t mean this beer can’t hang with its Bavarian brethren. It’s malty, toasty, ever so subtly hoppy, but not at all heavy — just like an Oktoberfestbier should be.
  3. Weihenstephaner Korbinian
    While this doppelbock (a dark, full-bodied lager) may not pour at Munich’s Oktoberfest celebration, Weihenstephan (reportedly the oldest brewery in the world) still adheres to the German Berr-Purity Law of 1516. This brew is going to be the heaviest of the bunch, with exceptionally rich, toasty malts; beautiful, fruity flavors; and a smooth finish.
  4. Captain Lawrence Pumpkin Ale
    Of course, no fall beer list is complete without a pumpkin ale. Typically, though, these brews are too sweet or heavy for those looking to throw back a second round. Captain Lawrence’s version turns down the volume on the sweetness, pumpkin, and spice, leaving you with an autumnal beer that’s easy-drinking, surprisingly refreshing, and a solid option for this early fall weather.
  5. Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur-Märzen
    It doesn’t get more traditional than Spaten’s Oktoberfest. The brewery is one of only six permitted to serve up their suds at Munich’s annual fest, which requires that all Oktoberfestbier conform to the beer- purity regulation Reinheitsgebot, dictating that no brew can be made from ingredients other than water, barley, hops, and yeast. This beer is light, with toasty malt, and finishes with a slight, hoppy bite — the perfect way to greet the season.
  6. Bell’s Best Brown Ale
    Here’s how to get your malt with a little extra oomph. This English brown ale has those same smooth, toasty qualities as the Oktoberfest beers, but you’ll find a bit more depth and complexity with this style. Notes of cocoa and even some blackberry come out to play here, but nothing in this beer overwhelms the palate.
  7. Ommegang Rare Vos
    Malty beers come out in full force this season, but if you’re seeking something that still has an autumnal vibe but doesn’t make you feel like you’re drinking bread-beer, Ommegang’s Belgian pale ale is your go-to. The floral hops are mellowed by the Belgian yeast, and the whole brew has a slightly spicy, somewhat-fruity quality. It’s a lovely, crisp beer, perfect for warmer fall days, or that late-October chill.

(MORE: A Hilarious Takedown Of Your Pumpkin Spice Latte Tweets)

TIME Culture

5 Ways to Stop Shopping Right Now

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

We know all the moves to the happy-shopping dance. They’re not the same for everyone, but the essential choreography is the uncontrollable shake, twist, and jump that lets everyone know that we just scored something good. But, while we’re big fans of the HSD around R29, it’s just as important to recognize when a bit of “retail therapy” isn’t feel-good or dance-inducing, but rather a lame attempt to face down boredom, anxiety, or the blues.

Emotional shopping may not always be our downfall — sometimes we’re truly looking for a specific find — but understanding our actions can help us nip this bad behavior in the bud before it becomes habit.

In an effort to understand the cause of our retail compulsions, and tackle the best reasons to back away from the cash register, we turned to a few informed experts. With their help, we can change our reactions to the first signs of impulsive shopping, so we’re not left with an empty bank account or a too-full closet. Ahead, learn when to say no, and how put the power back into your glee-filled, post-sale shimmy. Now that’s therapeutic.

2

The Bored Buy

It’s a slow Sunday night (okay, fine, Friday night), you’re suffering Netflix indecision, and your usual going-out group is nowhere to be found. So, you fall into a friendly little Internet black hole of e-commerce sites, constantly pressing “add to cart,” and before you know it, you’ve placed so many orders you’ve basically waved goodbye to this week’s paycheck.

As psychotherapist Peggy Wynne points out, the advent of online shopping — though not necessarily recent — is a huge part of why we shop when we’re bored. With the accessibility at our fingertips, “we get too much sensory overload and are triggered instantly,” she explains. “It’s sort of like online gambling or porn.” You don’t need to go anywhere and barely need to do anything to make a purchase — the satisfaction is instant, though not necessarily a cure.

3

The Solution: Dig Deeper
The best trick for conquering bored-buyer burnout is to slow down your reactions. Take a walk or look away from the screen before pressing the hovering Place Order button, Wynne advises. Practice mindfulness, don’t just pull the trigger.

In addition, we recommend you flip the script. Turn bored shopping into bored looking. We, too, have found ourselves totally submerged in a sea of e-tail tabs. And, we say, use your wandering eye to your advantage. This is your chance to perfect your eBay search terms, keep tabs on an auction item you’ve placed a bid on, track down those hard-to-come-by products, or, ya know, read up on the top trends and pieces that are actually worth your hard-earned dinero. Take a moment to make yourself a more informed customer, rather than just the most frequent one.

(MORE: Depression: A Real Life Guide)

4

The Bummed-Out Buy
You just got dumped. Your friend screwed you over. Your boss gave you the HR boot. All you want are Kleenex, a bottle of wine, and all the shoes you can find. You’ve been jilted and you deserve it!

Those shoes may not be for naught. Professor Scott Rick of the University of Michigan found in a 2013 study that retail therapy actually can lift the spirits. “Sadness, more than any other negative emotion, is associated with a sense that external forces (e.g., disease, weather) control the important outcomes in one’s life,” Rick tells us. “Shopping is all about choice, and we find that making shopping choices helps to restore a sense of personal control over one’s environment, and thus helps to alleviate sadness.” Now, shop away with your sad self, right? Not so much.

While sadness may be treated temporarily with a purchase, it also has shown that it can “increase one’s willingness to pay,” cites Rick of his research findings. Your decision-making skills may not be the sharpest when you’re blue, which can lead you down a dangerous and habit-forming path of spending beyond your means.

5

The Solution: Set Your Sights On Something New
Call us suckers for a silver lining, but we’re all about Rick’s suggestion that purchasing can give you back a little power in your life. Use it for good. And, should you find yourself in these kind of emotionally distraught shopping sprees, set your sights on good things on the horizon: that job interview you just landed, a night out with your very best buddy, a vacation that you totally deserve. Celebrate the good and screw the rest — at least in this moment — and should you make a purchase, make it one that will help steer your future in a brighter direction. You got this.

6

The Far-Flung Buy
You’re on vacation and you’ve stumbled upon a local boutique. Okay, make that severalboutiques. Problem is: You’re traveling on a budget and you don’t even really needanything, nor do you particularly have tons of space in you suitcase. But, you can only see two ways out of this situation: buy now, or face shopping FOMO when you get home.

“Restlessness, fatigue, fear and irritability can often be associated with what creates anxious shopping,” Wynne tells us. After all, if you’ve just traveled halfway around the globe, the last thing you want to do is return home with a big, ole carry-on of regret. But, all those scary what-ifs should never overpower your ability to make decisions based on your true desires.

(MORE: Why Knitting Is the New Therapy)

7

The Solution: Do Your Research
We’ll admit, this quandary is a difficult one for us. And, yes, we’ve come home from trips with suitcases stuffed before. But, the best solution is to do your research ahead of your potential fear-of-missing-out situation. For starters, stay away from labels that can be bought for less in your home town. Look for those brands that either aren’t available back home, or can only be purchased after major markups. Shopping in Paris? Stock on up drugstore labels that cost three times as much in the States. Hitting up Tokyo? Keep your eyes peeled for Comme des Garçons, Sacai, and other Japanese brands that may be less expensive overseas. Know your market, know your conversion rates, and know when to say no.

8

The Offer-You-Can’t-Refuse Buy
Three words: two for one. Why pass up a good deal when a store is basically giving stuff away? Well, because you don’t actually need a fourth pair of strappy, block-heeled sandals (even if they are marked down 70%). We’re with you on this one, but we’ve also learned the hard way that this kind of impulse-buying leads to taking home stuff we’ll hardly — maybe never — wear.

Much like bored shopping, this feeling of overexcitement also falls “under the umbrella of sensation-seeking,” Rick says. Scoring a deal can give us a huge sense of accomplishment. (Who hasn’t done a victory lap around the mall after a particularly good bargain was found?) “This [tendency to shop] also comes from wanting that inflated sense of self-esteem,” Wynne adds, “when perhaps other things aren’t going so well.”

9

The Solution: Be Picky
It’s neither easy nor fun to say no to every sale you come across, but start getting picky about when you indulge. We suggest rummaging through all those store e-mails you once signed up for, and services that alert you when an item is getting marked down. Stop buying becausean item in on sale, and start making decisions to shop when the pieces you truly want have finally hit the 50-off mark. We assure you: This kind of calculated score will be even sweeter.

10

The “Someday” Buy
Not your size, not a problem! You can — and will — lose those five pounds, so your latest skirt purchase will fit like a dream, you’ll have an important meeting to wear it to, and all will be right in the world. Or, so you hope.

While a bit of self-improvement is a wonderful thing, as Wynne suggests, living with this kind of hopefulness can make it tough to differentiate between what is realistic and what is fantasy. Rick makes a different point: “[This] reminds me of ‘commitment contracts’ where people basically make it costly for themselves to fail to meet a goal.” While expensive, too-small jeans might inspire action in some, we have a sinking suspicion that — during whatever time they remain unworn — they’ll make you feel more mopey than motivated. Investing in a way to work on feeling good now could have better emotional returns.

11

The Solution: Aspire To More (Not Less)
We agree that aspirational shopping is not a bad thing — but, we say forget size matters. Focus on buying items that challenge you to step outside your comfort zone a bit, reach for a goal, or make an effort to get out more. Set exciting goals that allow you to participate right away and shop with a new sense of self in mind. And, should your new self also happen to changes sizes, well, be sure to treat her to something that fits when the time is right.

(MORE: TV Therapy: 10 Shows That Boost Our Mental Health)

 

TIME relationships

Why Dating Someone Younger Shouldn’t Be a Big Deal

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This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

One of my friends only dates much younger dudes and it’s not a good look for her. She always end up in super casual relationships where neither of them seem to take it very seriously, but I know she wants to have a family one day. I get that everyone has “a type” but I care about her and don’t want her to keep wasting her time on these scrubs. Should I say something?

Natalie Ruge, Licensed Marriage And Family Therapist

If your friend seems to truly be enjoying her casual relationships and is okay when they don’t last very long, then sounds like it’s more your problem than her problem. A younger man may feel like more of a challenge, give her a sense of control, or just be a better match for her — sexually or otherwise. Some women enjoy being assertive with a younger man, making the first move, and confidently telling him what she likes and doesn’t like. And, if that’s the case, then more power to her! The world needs more people who know what they want and aren’t afraid to go after it, regardless of social norms or peer pressure. It could even be said that the older woman-younger man pairing results in a more equal power dynamic, and research shows that mutual respect and high regard is a strong indicator of a long-term, successful relationship.

(MORE: The Worst Questions Women Get When Online Dating)

I believe that your concern comes from a good place, but it does sound a little bit judgmental. Are these men “scrubs” just because they’re younger, or not in the kind of careers that you consider successful? And, why do you assume that she can’t have a family with someone younger than her? Maybe settling down with an age-appropriate finance type sounds like a death sentence to her. Just because you’re friends and have things in common doesn’t mean you have the same romantic interests. And, that’s a good thing — at least you’ll never fight over an S.O., which is never a good look.

(MORE: Dating 101: The New Rules)

On the other hand, if you’re just curious and want to know her better, there’s no reason why you can’t start a non-judgmental, but honest, conversation about what you want in a committed partner and then ask her what she wants in hers. However you handle it, just remember that for the most part, unsolicited opinions are rarely received well. No matter how nicely you say it, the message will be that you know what’s better for her than she does. If the guys she’s dating treat her like an adult that’s fully capable of making her own choices (and it seems like they are), you should too. Unless a friend is hurting herself or someone else, it’s best to live and let live.

There’s a difference between concern and control, so unless the issue is somehow affecting you directly, or if she seems unhappy about said partners, keep your opinions to yourself and enjoy your friend’s scandalous cougar tales. Maybe she’ll even convince you to give it a go yourself — have fun!

(MORE: Why I Dated a Guy Who Hated My Body)

TIME health

15 Tiny Tweaks for an Instant Health Makeover

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We’ve compiled a list of super-simple healthy tweaks you can realistically make. Really. Like, starting tomorrow.

This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

It always struck me as slightly odd that we make health resolutions in January. Sure, a new year is a theoretical blank slate — and our holiday habits provide us with ample inspiration for things we’d very much like to change about the way we treat our bodies. And, it helps that everyone around us is making the same resolutions (which, coincidentally, are identical to the ones we made the year before).

But, I’d like to argue that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the New Year’s Resolution model: We set ourselves up to fail by committing to massive life changes in the middle of winter. Environmental factors contribute to a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms, such as lower energy and decreased motivation, that undermine even our best efforts in the colder months. Sure, we’d all like to eat cleaner and get to spin class a few mornings a week. But, starting that habit in 20-degree weather? Good luck. And, as we’ve said many times before, the more ambitious your resolution, the less likely you are to accomplish it — baby steps, it seems, are really the way to go.

With these thoughts in mind, we’ve compiled a list of super-simple healthy tweaks you can realistically make. Really. Like, starting tomorrow. Look at it this way: At this point in the year, you’re already eating better. Why not take your wellness game up a few more notches? Your body will thank you when January 1 rears its ugly head once again.

Tweak: Ditch artificial sweeteners

Switching out the sugar in our morning coffee for Splenda and Stevia seems like a no-brainer — they provide the sweetness we crave without any of the metabolic chaos that comes with a sugar habit. But, Shira Lenchewski, registered dietitian and nationally recognized nutrition expert, says that while the fake stuff seems better for your calorie intake, you’re actually making it harder to avoid real sugar. “Artificial sweeteners like Splenda contain a synthetic chemical called Sucralose, which is 600 times sweeter than natural sugar. Because Sucralose is so much sweeter than natural sugar, it overstimulates the taste buds, causing people to crave intensely sweet foods throughout the day.” And, recent research suggests that sucralose itself may be messing with your body’s insulin response. Try reaching for an apple to go with your coffee: Not only will it neutralize your sugar yen, but the fiber will help keep future cravings at bay throughout the day.

Tweak: Get the right amount of sleep

We all know how important it is to get enough sleep. As New York-based physician Dr. Frank Lipman puts it, “From serotonin production to blood sugar management, immunity, and heart health, sleep impacts every aspect of your health.” Says internationally recognized cardiologist Dr. Kevin Campbell, “Sleep is essential for our bodies to recharge and for our brains to repair important pathways associated with memory and learning new things.” But, as Campbell points out, more isn’t always better. He points to new research suggesting that the “perfect” amount of sleep may be 7 hours a night — although some people need more than others. Experiment to figure out how much sleep makes your body feel its best, and then commit to that number of hours — even if it means resisting the urge to hit snooze.

Tweak: Wash your hands

Here’s an easy one. Wash your hands more — especially after using the ATM. According to recent research, “ATMs harbor the same organisms seen in a public toilet,” Campbell explains. “It is important to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after touching ATM buttons in order to avoid exposure to nasty microbes and [to avoid carrying] them into your car or home.”

But, be sure to look for a soap that’s triclosan-free. A common ingredient in anti-microbial soaps, triclosan has been shown to seriously mess with hormone production and increase the risk of breast cancer. Luckily, there’s no need to reach for an anti-microbial: Research shows that products claiming to have anti-microbial properties are not better at preventing disease than regular old hand soap.

(MORE: The Truth About Your Post-Workout Snack)

 

Tweak: Snack smarter

We’re all familiar with the 3 p.m. snack attack — and how it can wreak havoc on our clean-eating intentions. But, as Campbell points out, there’s a right way and a wrong way to snack. “Research shows that eating two to three healthy snacks throughout the day can improve your metabolism, improve weight control, and reduce obesity. Snacks should be limited to 100 to 200 calories and should be rich in nutrients, such as fruits and veggies.” Lipman suggests incorporating hummus and avocado — the healthy fats in each go a long way toward keeping you full until your next meal.

Tweak: Stop “thirsty”

We’ve heard it before: Adequate hydration is essential to proper function of every body system, especially in the summer. But, it’s all too easy to get dehydrated — as Lipman points out, “if you wait until you’re thirsty to drink, then you’re already dehydrated.” Instead of letting that dry-mouth feeling come on, get into the routine of drinking eight to 10 ounces of water every hour or so, whether you’re thirsty or not. And, if you need extra incentive to keep refueling, try out a new hydration habit — flavor your water with lemon, cucumber, herbs, or in-season berries.

Tweak: Try jogging

We know, we know: Who wants to run in face-melting heat? Well, it doesn’t take much of a step up in the cardio department to generate a major net health benefit. According to Campbell, “Recent research shows that even jogging for as little as five minutes a day has been shown to reduce risk for heart disease, prolong life, and decrease heart attack risk.” Think about running around the block once or twice after dinner. In addition to the cardiovascular health benefits, getting your heart pumping will help kickstart your metabolism, giving your digestive system a serious boost.

Tweak: Increase probiotic intake

From Greek yogurt to kombucha, it doesn’t get much hipper these days than probiotics. Luckily, there’s some health science to back up this particular fad. As board-certified internist and weight-loss specialist Dr. Sue Decotiis points out, “Probiotics are a crucial part of a daily routine of healthy eating, supplementation, and physical activity. Probiotics help naturally “cleanse” our bodies by processing and eliminating toxins from our digestive tract. When our digestive tract is functioning efficiently, so are our hormones and metabolism.”

But, there’s more to the probiotic party than yogurt. Lipman suggest that you “develop a taste for…unpasteurized, fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir, [which] feed your gut with trillions of healthy bacteria.” Try to incorporate one fermented food or drink into each day to keep your gut biome in tip-top shape.

Tweak: Replenish B vitamins

Winter isn’t the only time to be concerned about your vitamin intake. One easy wellness fix: Make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins. As Dr. Decotiis points out, B vitamins, like folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, are essential for proper metabolic function, but they get depleted quickly and must be consumed daily. And, alcohol depletes B vitamins in the body — “All the more reason to increase intake especially after a long summer of social drinking.” Rather than popping supplements, load up on fruits and veggies (especially dark greens like kale), whole grains, fish, and eggs.

(MORE: 7 Harmful Diet Lies You Probably Believe)

Tweak: Cut back on alcohol

If you’re anything like us, you’ve been partying just a little bit harder these past few months — and we don’t blame you. After all, there’s nothing quite like drinking outside on a warm evening. But, consider cooling it a bit on the booze for the rest of the season. As Dr. Decotiis points out, “Besides the obvious that alcohol adds more to your daily caloric intake, it also affects hunger hormones.” Specifically, research has shown that alcohol decreases the amount of leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone made by your endocrine system. This makes it harder for your body to register that it’s had enough to eat — leading you to overconsumption.

Tweak: Replace nonfat yogurt

In the past few years, nonfat yogurt manufacturers have made a killing on our collective fear of that short little “F” word. But, it turns out that avoiding fat like a deadly plague isn’t doing us as much good as we might think. Because it takes longer to digest, fat stays in your stomach longer, helping to keep you full after meals. And, as Lenchewski points out, “One of the most pervasive food myths is the idea that consuming dietary fat makes you fat. But, truthfully, consuming any macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, or fat) in excess will result in weight gain. The fact is, fat adds flavor, and when it’s removed, sweeteners and artificial flavors are typically added in its place.” Then there’s the recent research suggesting that full-fat dairy is better for reducing body fat than nonfat options. Go ahead: indulge. Your metabolism will thank you.

Tweak: Plate your food

Research has already shown that the size and color of your plate can make a big difference in terms of how much you eat. But, here’s another plating-related trick to consider. While many of us go out of our way on presentation to impress our guests, pulling out all the tips and tricks we’ve learned from our Food Network marathons, we tend to get lazy when it’s just us. Think about spending a little time on the aesthetics of your dinners for one. A bit of effort can go a long way toward teaching us to be mindful of what we’re putting into our bodies. Lenchewski says, “When food is plated beautifully and thoughtfully, it makes the meal or snack more appetizing and enjoyable, and as research suggests, can even prevent overeating.”

Tweak: Put food away

Even when you try to eat well by cooking something healthy, you’re not out of the woods. Sometimes, there’s nothing more tempting than that second helping. But, if you find yourself reaching for a refill — whether you’re hungry or not — here’s a no-brainer fix. Board-certified internist Dr. Pat Salber suggests removing temptation altogether. “After you plate your food, immediately put the rest in the fridge so you won’t be tempted to help yourself to seconds.” Out of sight, out of mind. Added bonus: This way, cleanup gets done beforedinner.

Tweak: Set goals for fall

One way to deal with the seemingly inevitable downturn in wellness in the fall and winter? Be deliberate about setting specific goals before bad weather (or seasonal affective disorder) gives you an excuse to crank up the lazy. Dr. Decotiis suggests a proactive approach to your wellness goals by taking accountability before things start to go south. “Start tracking your eating and exercise habits again, and you might be surprised with your findings. If you’ve fallen off the wagon, there’s no better time to get back on track than right now. You’ll go into the fall and winter feeling better about yourself.”

Tweak: Befriend vinegar

Vinegar has long been a favorite in alternative medicine circles for treating everything from acne to ear infections. But, one proven benefit should take the sour stuff into the spotlight for good. Apple cider vinegar has been shown to help regulate blood sugar, which helps keep your most intense food urges under control. Lenchewski says, “Vinegar helps fight sugar cravings by inhibiting the hunger hormone (ghrelin) and preventing blood sugar from spiking after a meal.” Try incorporating ACV into your daily routine with an afternoon cocktail of 1 tablespoon of vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon of honey and 8 ounces of grapefruit juice.

(MORE: 6 Hydration Myths And What You Need to Know)

Tweak: Re-think dessert

Eating better doesn’t have to mean giving up dessert. It’s all about putting a little bit of thought into how you indulge. As Lipman points out, “The quickest way to whip up a sweet and healthy treat is to make your own popsicles. Freeze your favorite smoothies or juice with a few chunks of fruit or berries.” Even better? Throw a little kale into the mix for a super-healthy, refreshing, and fiber-packed dessert.

 

TIME sleep

The Perfect Amount of Sleep, According to Science

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This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Wondering how much your sleep-in Saturdays or that one all-nighter will set you back? New research might help us gauge how to adjust our sleep schedules by shedding light on how many ZZZs we really need.

The study, published in the journal Sleep, used the data of 1,885 men and 1,875 women collected from the Finnish “Health 2000″ survey. The sleep data included information about participants’ nightly quantity and quality of sleep, whether they had any sleep disorders, and how tired they were during the day. Additionally, the researchers used the Social Insurance Institution to gather information about how often those participants took sick days from work.

(MORE: 7 Sleep Gadgets That Actually Work)

Results showed that those who took the fewest sick days slept, on average, 7.6 hours (for women) and 7.8 hours (for men) per night. In fact, those who got more or less than the “perfect” average of hours per night had an increased risk for sickness absence: up to eight more sick days per year. But, men reporting the optimal amount of sleep only took 5.93 days of sick leave each year on average; optimal female sleepers took 7.64 days. The researchers also found a few more interesting patterns: The male participants reported using sleeping pills more often and experiencing shorter durations of sleep than their female counterparts, while the women reported experiencing a greater effect of the seasons on their sleep duration.

(MORE: Are You ‘Sleep Drunk’ Right Now?)

This study supports previous research, which suggests the magic sleep number is somewhere between five and nine hours per night. It’s not just sleep quantity that matters; poor sleep quality has been shown to cause confusional arousal, or “sleep drunkenness.” Regardless, we know that sleep needs change with age and by individual, so it’s unclear how applicable this recent study’s results are to the population at large. And, although this research shows correlation between non-optimal sleep duration and increased number of sick days, that doesn’t mean one is caused by the other. Besides, nobody has ever taken a sick day when they weren’t actually sick, right? Right…

(MORE: A Scientific Excuse to Sleep In)

 

TIME health

How to Get Over Your Fear of the Gym

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This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Gym + Intimidation = Gymtimidation, and I’ve had a bad case of it for years. As a big girl, gym culture can be intimidating for a variety of reasons. I know I need to lift weights and build strength, but that testosterone-filled section of the gym doesn’t always feel fat-girl friendly, especially when I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing.

But, it’s not just the free-weight room that gives me anxiety. I’m a strong swimmer, but when I head to my gym’s pool, I’ve had lifeguards ask if I’m looking for the slow lane — before I even get in the water. I’ve noticed that the women who look fit are offered free personal-training sessions, while instructors size me up and simply dismiss me because I’m bigger.

I’m on a plus-size fitness journey, though, which means I need to get comfortable at the gym. In order for me to do this right, I need to work out often and try new things. If I only stick to the exercise classes and workouts I’ve always done, my body’s going to get used to those exercises, essentially making them less effective. And, I intend to meet my fitness goals — not shy away from them.

(MORE: Why Body Confidence is Complicated, No Matter Your Size)

Because of my tendency to get nervous at the gym (and practically run out before I start sweating), there have been many times when I’ve had to give myself a pep talk: “CeCe, get over it!” Lately, when I head to the gym, I have to take a quick minute to remind myself that it’s ok to ask for help. That I must get over my fear of the guys in the weight room. I’m also working on getting more comfortable with getting undressed in the main locker-room area, which is a heck of a lot easier than doing it behind the doors of a cramped stall.

Getting over my gymtimidation is an ongoing process. Every time I think I’ve shed my fears and anxieties, there’s something new I have to conquer: a new machine, a new instructor, or even my desire to try new classes, like Spinning.

When I first braved a Spinning class, I didn’t know anyone in it, so I made sure to arrive 30 seconds before class started to stay as anonymous as possible. I jumped on a bike in the back corner of the room and watched the regulars exchange hugs and kisses before the lights dimmed and class began.

(MORE: Why I Dated a Guy Who Hated My Body)

The next 45 minutes were awful. My shoes got stuck in the pedal straps, I kept turning knobs on my bike without knowing what they did, and, perhaps worst of all, my butt really hurt. When the class ended, I ran out of there as fast as I could and didn’t return.

But, the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to attend another Spinning class meant only one thing to me: I was letting gymtimidation rob me of a good workout. So, last week, I got back on that bike. I arrived early this time, chose a bike in the front row, and when the instructor walked in and asked if I was new, I admitted that I was and asked for help. He taught me how the bike worked and how to set up my seat and handles. The class was definitely intense, but every step of the way, the instructor gave me the attention I needed to keep up. He even instructed me to sit back on the seat a bit, because, as he said, my butt was probably hurting. How did he know?

Forty-five minutes later, I walked out of the studio feeling sweaty, motivated, and, above all, proud of myself. I had finally gotten out of my own way and unlocked a new workout option for myself. Who knew what other workouts I’d try next? As I headed to the locker room, the instructor called out after me: “Great job today! I’m glad you mentioned that you were new; most people don’t do that.” I guess I’m not the only one with gymtimidation!

(MORE: Please Stop Calling Yourself a Fat Girl in Front of Me)

On her blog, Plus Size Princess, CeCe Olisa has detailed everything from what it’s like to be the only big black girl in a yoga class (fine, thanks!), to her adventures in plus-size dating in the Big Apple. Now, the New York City transplant is lending her poignant, often-hilarious voice to R29.

TIME health

The Weirdest Stuff We All Do at the Gym

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This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

A few years ago the media was obsessed with talking about the weird habits of people who live alone. The uninhibited freedom of not cohabitating gives you a free pass to walk around naked, sing to yourself, and leave the bathroom door open 24/7. And, while I currently live with a roommate, I don’t curb any of my quirkiness — except maybe the bathroom-door thing.

But, since the gym is my second home, it’s only natural that I have a second set of weird quirks specific to the sweat-friendly atmosphere. They may be a bit unconventional, but they’re never annoying or disrespectful — no loud conversations or equipment hogging. I proudly display my eccentric gym habits as any true local would — like a badge of honor. From treadmill racing to yawning while exercising to giving my muscles a mental “pat on the back,” here are some oddities I’m definitely guilty of doing.

(MORE: How to Actually Enjoy Your Workout)

1. I maximize viewings of my gym clothes by saving my favorite apparel for Monday workouts — as that is when the gym is always the most crowded. I realize occupying a treadmill in the front row of Equinox isn’t the same as sitting front row during Fashion Week, I just happen to love my spandex and want to show it off. And, when you’re in the front, there’s no room for slacking, so it helps me push harder, even if no one is actually paying any attention.

2. There is such a thing as a “better” treadmill, StairMaster, or [insert equipment of choice]. Perhaps it’s the one positioned directly under the AC or away from the mirror so I don’t have to stare at myself for the duration of my three-mile run. Whatever the reason, once I find my favorite, I’ll forever try exercise on that same piece of equipment anytime I’m at that gym.

3. During lunges, I rest my hands on my butt (as discreetly as possible). It’s a reminder to push through my heels, so that I engage my glute muscles, instead of relying on my quads, to return to standing. Plus, when you feel your muscles working, it’s definitely a “go me” moment.

4. I won’t seek you out, but if you choose the treadmill next to me (when there are a few open), I will assume you want to race. And, we will — game on.

(MORE: 5 Reasons to Skip Your Workout)

5. Even when I’m totally pumped up and not remotely tired, sometimes I’ll yawn at the gym. There are a lot of different theories why this happens (one is that yawning helps cool the brain), and I used to be embarrassed, thinking that everyone around me would assume I wasn’t working hard enough. But, then I stopped caring what other people thought and used my yawns to see if anyone was staring — because we all know that yawning is contagious.

6. I pee no less than three times before my CrossFit workout. Whenever I know that I have a tough training session ahead, my bladder goes into overdrive. It’s annoying, but I’ve learned to deal with it and plan for multiple bathroom breaks.

7. I don’t put makeup on, specifically for the purpose of going to the gym, but, if I train after work, I don’t necessarily put any effort into taking it off. I do plan my lip color around my workout schedule though as I have one red lip stain that I love. But, I have to avoid wearing it on days that I plan to train since it’s impossible to remove.

8. When I forget to toss my armband in my gym bag, I’ll attempt to store my phone in weird places (including in my sports bra, tucked under the strap of my tank top, and in a legging pocket that wasn’t meant to hold anything larger than a key), so I can listen to my jams uninterrupted while exercising. It almost never works, but I keep trying.

(MORE: How I Balance Drinking and Exercise)

TIME relationships

How Sleeping in Separate Bedrooms Could Save Your Relationship

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This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

When my boyfriend and I were looking at our first apartment together last year, the number-one thing we decided we needed in order to get along was…separate bedrooms. Hear me out. We’d tried sharing his king-size bed early in our relationship — resulting in little to no sleep for both of us. Even today, we have to do it every once in a while in a hotel room, and it’s a challenge (cut to me riding out a bout of insomnia by reading in the bathroom at 3 a.m.). Separate bedrooms aren’t just a requirement for getting our Zs, they are the way we carve out private space in our otherwise-joined lives.

We’re not the only ones. Arianne Cohen recently proclaimed that sleeping in her “woman cave” (a.k.a. guest room) helped save her marriage. Jennifer Adams is such an advocate of the two-room solution that she’s devoted a blog, Sleeping Apart Not Falling Apart, to the cause, and has written a book of the same name.

For me and my boyfriend, there are several reasons for separate beds, but I want to knock out the first one that comes up whenever I tell anyone — friend, stranger, therapist — about our arrangement. We don’t do this because we aren’t attracted to each other, or any other obvious relationship red flag. It’s not that at all.

(MORE: 12 Less Than Romantic Relationship Milestones)

First, we are very different kinds of sleepers. I like to sprawl out under the covers and take up as much space as possible. My boyfriend, who’s a big guy, has a special sleep-number bed that he’s calibrated to fit his body. Whenever he sleeps anywhere else, whether that’s in a hotel room or his parents’ guest room, he sleeps poorly. When we try to snooze inches from one another, we are far too aware of the other person’s body. I react to his talking in his sleep; he hears me snoring.

And, I don’t know about you, but when I don’tget enough sleep (for me, enough is much closer to eight than six hours), I’m not that fun to be around. I’m cranky, hungry, and tired. Schedules play a role, too: He leaves for work at 7 a.m., while I’m a work-from-home freelance writer who sometimes stays up past 2 and sleeps ’til 9.

Plus, on top of being opposite sleep types, we’re also opposite living types — he’s a neat freak and I’m a hoarder. His room has what feels, to me, like tons of empty space. Mine is packed with belongings, many of which find their way into my bed. I invariably share my sheets with several books, my laptop, my cell phone, and a Hello Kitty stuffed animal. For him? Sheets, blankets, and pillows will do.

(MORE: I’ll Admit It: I Hate Relying On My Boyfriend)

I made the transition to living with a partner for the first time at age 37, after living alone for seven years. If I’d had to go from being the queen of my castle to trying to live up to his standards of decluttering, I’d go insane. I can handle it in the common areas, but I need some space just for me in which I can decide where things go without having to answer to anyone else. While I wouldn’t go as far as Chris Illuminati and say that every couple should sleep in separate beds, it’s an option worth considering for any pair with mismatched habits.

Still, it’s less about where we rest our heads than what’s happening inside those heads. Sometimes, I want to be alone. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to my boyfriend, per se — I don’t want to talk to anyone. If we shared a bedroom, it would be much harder to carve out that necessary alone time without coming across as rude. Having those boundaries already drawn means that when we are together in bed it’s because we want to be, not just because it’s bedtime.

Shutting the door wouldn’t feel as satisfying if he had every right to open it whenever he wanted. That’s something I especially value when I’m having a tough day. He processes his low moments by talking them out; I do it by crying and I hate for anyone, even my partner, to see me when I do. Though I’m alone all day, sometimes I just want to read or think or have a private phone conversation, which I feel more comfortable doing in a space clearly demarcated as my own. In addition to supporting our emotional health in these many ways, separate rooms mean a faster recovery when we’re sick; we don’t pass our germs back and forth to each other in the night.

(MORE: Why I Stopped Stalking My Ex On FB)

While it may seem strange, separate bedrooms has meant that when we do join each other, usually in his bigger, more comfortable bed, it’s code for sexy time (or, at least, sexy talk). We spend plenty of hours curled up on our couch watching TV, or playing Wii bowling, but when we get under the covers we laugh, whisper, make out, and have sex. Maybe not every time, but in general, it’s our cue to turn off our phones and focus on each other (full disclosure: sometimes I need reminding of this). Do we sometimes lie side by side and read or look at our phones or tablets? Yes, but it’s still more intimate, because we are physically closer together and more likely to get it on than we would be separated by half a couch.

After sex, we do what I imagine most couples do — cuddle and talk — but there always comes a point, right as one of us is drifting off, where I kiss him goodnight and leave to go to my own room. That’s the invisible line between our shared and private time.

The other night, I tried to curl up in his bed (I do get jealous of his extra-soft blanket) and he affectionately recommended I keep it moving. While part of me wanted to experience the joy of waking up next to him, I knew he was being practical. For us, the fantasy of spending the night in the same bed will always trump the reality. Instead, I shuffled off to my room, where I get to take up as much space as I want, sleep with the lights on if I so desire, and surprise him in the morning after we’ve each gotten the night of sleep we deserve. And for this twosome, that “arrangement” sure feels like love.

TIME relationships

Two Real Stories That Will Change Your Mind About Cheating

This article originally appeared on Refinery 29.com.

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

Jealousy is probably one of the most toxic emotions out there. It’s a monster of a feeling — all-encompassing. At its worst, it can make you lose sight of yourself entirely. Being in the throes of jealousy can feel like a primal kind of anger.And, yet; is it possible that infidelity, and the feelings it evokes, are at least in part social constructions? Shouldn’t we at least entertain the idea that the notion of monogamous, lifelong partnership — of fidelity as the ultimate golden rule in love — might be just another box on the Puritanical checklist?It’s a hot topic, one that tugs at a lot of very tender heartstrings for a lot of people. Two of those people agreed to write about their experiences with cheating; read on and see if their perspectives change your mind, or at least make you think.

Kelly Bourdet, Refinery29 health and wellness director: Well, it happens to most people, so we might as well get over it.

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

Infidelity is as difficult to study as it is to define. In a time with so many ways to cheat, our concept of infidelity is often reverse-engineered; we arrive at our definitions based on what, subjectively, we believe would hurt us. Short of having straight-up sexual intercourse with someone outside of the confines of a monogamous relationship (this, I think, is pretty commonly agreed upon to count as ‘cheating’), there are a myriad of other behaviors that some of us feel (sort of) bad about.

Life offers no shortage of situations that are firmly planted in the grey area between accepting praise from your boss and ending up in bed with him or her after a night of “working late.” These include, but are not limited to: texting, sexting, going out to drinks one-on-one, crushing, flirting, emoticon-laden Gchat…the list goes on. We make increasingly arbitrary delineations between physical cheating, emotional cheating, cyber cheating, and so on. We focus both on the intention and the action. But, at the root of any infidelity is a subjective sense of betrayal — one that hinges upon a set of rules that’s likely unique to the specific relationship.

(MORE: How to Survive and Thrive After Cheating)

Figures on infidelity vary widely. This makes sense: Those keeping affairs a secret are likely to withhold that information from their friendly sexuality researcher. But, as a starting point, one 1997 study found that an affair had occured in 40% to 76% of marriages. Keep in mind, though, that this study only examined heterosexual marriages. A more recent study, out this year, found that over 50% of both men and women had committed infidelity at some point — and this study surveyed gay men and lesbian women in addition to heterosexual men and women. So, while we don’t really know how many people have cheatin’ hearts, it’s likely most of us will be touched by infidelity in some way.

In her 2007 book, Lust in Translation, former Wall Street Journal reporter Pamela Druckerman explores how various cultures across the globe deal with infidelity: “Americans are the worst, both at having affairs and dealing with the aftermath,” she told Men’s Health. “Adultery crises in America last longer, cost more, and seem to inflict more emotional torture.” It appears the French, on the other hand, are more accepting of infidelity. In a survey conducted in 2012, only 47% of French people said it was “morally unacceptable” for married people to have an affair (for reference, 84% of Americans believe it’s morally unacceptable).

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

I’m not arguing that cheating itself is a good idea. What I’m more concerned with is how drastically we react to it, and how much we let it upend our relationships. Is cheating on your partner a shitty move? Absolutely. Is it the absolute worst, most terrible, heartbreaking event of your lives together? Well, that’s subjective. But, I don’t think it has to be.

I’ve been cheated on before, and it didn’t feel great. But, in retrospect, it made perfect sense — and it actually wasn’t that big of deal. My S.O. at the time traveled constantly for his job, often to Los Angeles. Eventually, it came out that he had been hooking up with someone else in LA. Was I mad at the time? Yeah, of course. But, I also realized that we were both in our 20s, we were apart for a significant amount of time, and we both worked in industries that had us out late at night. Taking all this into account, cheating wasn’t such a huge surprise.

(MORE: Why Does Cheating Feel So Good?)

We cling so desperately to a rigid notion of monogamy, and monogamy is a fine goal to have. But, when someone makes a very human mistake or falls short of our happily-ever-after ideals, we freak out. By all means, an instance of infidelity should give pause; a pattern of infidelity definitely means something. Maybe there’s a fundamental problem within the relationship. But, maybe there’s not. The ultimate goal of any relationship should be to have honest and open communication — to be able to communicate your desires without cheating. But, when that doesn’t happen, there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It’s easy to sit primly on the expectation of a perfectly monogamous relationship. It’s generally accepted that cheating is a horrible betrayal that wounds people terribly. But, haven’t we created that stigma ourselves? By building cheating up to be a life-altering event of devastation, we convince ourselves that it is one. Expecting a mistake-free relationship — and life — seems a bit unrealistic. So, if you cheat or are cheated on, my advice is to figure out why it happened, figure out what you want, and then move on.

Rosemary Downs, writer, 24: Is cheating a big deal? If you’re calling it cheating, then yes, it’s a problem.

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

The weird thing is, I wish I could be okay with non-monogamy. Intellectually, I really believe that overcoming jealousy and accepting that you can’t hold ownership over another person is one of the most enlightened things you can do. Unfortunately, I can’t — no matter how hard I try — reconcile that with the overwhelming emotional reaction I have to even the very idea of being cheated on (much less the actual experience of it). Maybe, someday, that will change — but for now, I ask anyone I’m with to be with me and only me. If they can’t, that’s going to be a problem.Before cheating happened to me, I definitely fancied myself the kind of person who would take it in stride — maybe even take some lovers of my own to match. I had joked with my boyfriend about my “suspicions,” but I never took them seriously. I was blindsided when they turned out to be true. I can’t explain the intensity of what I felt or how angry I was; there are no words, only me smashing things and tearing my hair out, as melodramatic as that might sound. It was a blow to my ego that I had never experienced before, and as someone with a pretty fragile self image, such a blow was disastrous. I honestly don’t know if it will ever be repaired. Seeing infidelity travel from outside the realm of my imagination to inside my everyday existence changed me fundamentally. It felt like an irrefutable blemish on my person.The odd thing is, I didn’t take out that anger nearly as much as I believe I should have. I don’t think anyone should be cruelly punished or berated for cheating, because while it can be a despicable and heartless act, it can also be simply a stupid one, or a lapse in judgment, or even a manifestation of deeper internal issues. But, I do think things would have progressed better for everyone if I’d been bold enough to make the true extent of the damage known to those around me. I should have yelled and screamed and thrown things (not heavy things, but something) when I first found out, like I often dream about doing now. Catharsis, I suppose, is the preferred term.

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

Or, maybe I should have just “chosen my own happiness,” or whatever it is people say on Pinterest. Maybe I should have been progressive and open-minded enough to remain unfazed, uninsulted, and unbroken. But, ultimately, at this stage of my life, I do not have that choice, or that power. So, I ask my partner never to cheat again — and I will ask this of anyone else I am with in the future, too.

Everyone has their requirements. Some people could never be with a person who wasted water or hadn’t read Proust; I can’t be with someone who doesn’t give our relationship a special priority — one that is not matched or even mimicked by something on the side. In return, it’s my responsibility to curb my jealousy when it is unwarranted, and to accept that this agreement is about mutual trust, not about complete ownership or snooping on each other’s emails. If we can’t agree on this point, then we just aren’t a good match.

People have told me that I should love and accept myself in spite of what’s happened, that I should build a kind of self confidence that is independent of the events of my life (which, I admit, in the grand scheme of things, has been pretty cushy). But, ultimately, the reason I can justify my point of view on cheating is a belief I hold pretty firmly: that self-love is not an isolated thing that lives high atop a mountain and is untouched by the elements. It is shaped by the other egos around it. That’s not a bad thing, nor is it something to reject in favor of some Randian ideal. In fact, it’s a challenge we should all aspire to meet.

Simply put, it’s a matter of respect, and if one partner asks for fidelity — if (and this is an important if) fidelity is something possible and acceptable for both partners — it’s a small but important kindness to honor that request. There’s a basic equation at play. If being cheated on hurts your partner, and you love your partner, then you shouldn’t do it. What could be clearer than that?

(MORE: What I Learned When My Boyfriend Cheated on Me)

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