Is It Still Cheating If Everybody Does It?

I have a confession to make. I’m a serial monogamist.

I know you’re shocked. If you’ve seen my profile picture, your first thought was probably “Is that Brad Pitt?” Of course, your second thought was probably “Wow, he’s really let himself go!” But it’s true, all of this good stuff is being wasted on just one woman.

It is not that I lack confidence or ego – I dare say I could sexually disappoint more than one woman at a time. And I certainly do not lack for desire – I’m a pretty horny guy by just about anyone’s standards. I mean, if I see a sign that says “Parking in the Rear” I get aroused.

But something is missing in me. I find myself unable to be able to want to be with more than one woman at a time. Looking back over my, for lack of better words we will for the sake of argument call my “love life”, I not only have been completely faithful in my marriages, I’ve never even had overlapping girl friends.

Hmmm. Give me a minute to deal with the mental image of overlapping girl friends …. that’s even better than the sign thing.

I bring it up, because it seems like infidelity is big in entertainment and politics (although I repeat myself) these days. For example, we recently binge-watched the new season of Frankie and Grace on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, this is a show awash in infidelity, with all kinds of excuses – “We’re gay, so we can cheat on our wives”, “We used to be married, so we can cheat on my new gay husband”, and just recently the one I have the hardest time understanding, “We can cheat on my wife because she’s really sick”.

I’m confused by the whole issue, but that last one really boggles my mind. If you’ve never seen the show, one of the characters reconnects with someone she almost had an affair with when she was married. Now she’s divorced, but he’s still married. In the end, she gives in, because – here it comes – his wife has advanced Alzheimers, so he’s “stuck” with her, and therefor it doesn’t count.

I was married to my first wife for just a few weeks short of 25 years. Shortly after our 20th anniversary, she came home from a routine checkup with the four words you never want to hear – “They found a lump”. What followed was 5 years of struggle and suffering, beginning with a radical mastectomy, radiation treatments, bone infusions, an escalating pharmacopeia, gradual loss of mobility and strength, and eventually ending with three weeks in a hospital.

During that period I experienced a lot of emotions, and had a lot of stress and fear to deal with, but never did I feel like now I’m suddenly justified in having an affair because I’m “stuck” with someone who was dying.

It is not just in fiction either. Remember politicians like John McCain, who told his first wife after an auto accident left her with one short leg and some weight gain that he needed a more attractive wife? Or Newt Gingrich, getting one of the two wives he dumped while they were sick to sign the divorce decree while she was in a hospital bed. And lest you think I’m picking on Republicans, who can forget Democrat John Edwards, who used sympathy for his wife’s cancer to get votes, and also to justify having a little fling with his campaign photographer?

Is there a lower form of life on the planet than someone who will cheat on their spouse when they are suffering? Ok, possibly telemarketers, but that’s about it.

What I don’t understand is this weird mix of ego, self-image, denial, and self-delusion involved. Why not just tell your spouse you want out of the marriage? Well, then people would think I’m a selfish turd. So aren’t you being a selfish turd by cheating on someone who is dying? Well, yes – but as long as I don’t get caught, no one will know that I’m a selfish turd.

For all of the talk in the US about the sacredness of marriage, and what a holy institution it is, and how it is the backbone of our society, it sure seems like the vows get thrown out the window at the slightest provocation.

“We were carried away”, “I’m so lonely”, “My spouse doesn’t understand me”, We’ve grown apart”, etc. Sorry, but I have to call bullshit. The weird part is I’m not a religious man, so the entire sacred/holy thing means diddly-squat to me. But my word does means something to me. I’ve been married twice now, and in both ceremonies, I made a promise to “love, honor and cherish, in sickness and in health, until death parts us”.

That’s some pretty serious shit. Also pretty easy to understand. If you are going to get married, you need to do more than say the words, you have to mean the words. If you love someone, why would you want to hurt them? If you honor them, how can you go behind their backs? If you don’t mean in sickness and in health, why not just say I’ll stick it out as long as it’s not too difficult?

I’m not saying if you are in a bad marriage, you should stay in it. I’m just saying that if you feel you can no longer abide by the vows that you made, then have the courage to tell your partner honestly and either work things out, or deal with the emotional and fiscal difficulties of breaking up before you start lying and deceiving, and causing more problems not just for yourself, but for all concerned parties.

I’ve read a lot of definitions of love, and even essays by psychologists who insist romantic love does not exist, it’s just lust wearing a pretty dress. I don’t know what the truth is, but the one that feels right to me, is “love is when another person’s happiness is more important to you than your own”. That’s the way I felt in my first marriage, and why it was my duty and honor to make the end of her life as easy as I possibly could, no matter what the cost to me. It wasn’t easy, it took a major toll on my physical and mental health, and I swore I would never put myself in that position again. But here I am, feeling the same way now about Rita. We could have just lived the rest of our lives together without getting married, but I wanted to say those vows, because I meant them.

If that is true in your relationship, then there is no way you can cheat. If that is not true, you are cheating yourself by pretending you are in a relationship.