I cheated on my partner early in our relationship. We were newly dating and I was coming out of a polyamorous relationship but my partner and I had agreed to a certain level of monogamy and I violated that. It was a one-time event that I admitted shortly after it happened. I wish it hadn’t happened but the end result was that my partner and I more openly discussed our needs and wants in the relationship and we were able to adjust expectations to match. I wish I had been brave enough and honest enough to have that conversation earlier but I can’t change the past.
I mention this only to be as transparent as possible (as I often am).
Recently I shared a post about a New Yorker article titled “In Defense of Adulterers” (kinda click-baity). The article is a summary of Esther Perel’s relatively new book, “The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity”. I have not read the book yet but I’m sure I will at some point. My post did not really spark much vocal controversy but there was one comment critical of Perel’s viewpoint that I feel is worth addressing. The comment got almost as many likes as the original post, so I assume there are many non-vocal people who agree with it.
So, why in a blog post instead of on Facebook? In short, because I like this better and I find Facebook to be distracting. And I have a unique audience that may not be FB friends with me.
The commenter was absolutely right about some things, including the need for partners to discuss their extra-marital desires openly and come to a conclusion about how to address them, which is generally suppression of desire, destruction of a relationship, or an open relationship. Now, none of these may seem like great options to many people, but life isn’t perfect and the reality is that at some point it is likely that a member of a couple is going to have a crush, lust over, or fall in love with someone else.
There are two interrelated points that the commenter made that I disagree with. The first is “the fact that it generally requires prolonged deception.” There is no evidence of that. He may be right, but he might not. Data about affairs is rarely consistent and we really don’t know what is a “fact” or what it “generally requires”. So, I take issue with grouping all affairs into this one category without evidence. I think that it is possible that many, or even most, cheating occurs similarly to mine, a one-shot mistake.
The commenters conclusion from his (possibly false) assumption is that cheating is “indicative of deeper character flaws”. If his assumption is correct then that is possible, but it might not really be a deep character flaw. It could be depression, addiction, an inability to communicate in the relationship (which could be either partner’s fault), or a plethora of other things that I would hardly categorize as character flaws.
That isn’t to say that cheating is okay in these circumstances, what I’m saying is we do ourselves and our relationships an injustice if we decide to paint any action or view as binary: good or evil, right or wrong. Humans are complex, nuanced, and ever-changing creatures and actions should be taken as a part of the whole instead of one behavior or view becoming their sole identity and the sole thing we measure their worth as a partner with.
Say a man cheats on his wife. He does so often but is always safe and does so in a way that his wife never knows. He is also a wonderful father, a generous member of the community, and in all other areas a perfect husband. Would that family and community be better off if the family is ripped apart because the affair is “unforgivable” (as stated by the commenter)? Is it really true that every affair should be viewed as such an absolute wrong that the person who does it is so deeply flawed that nothing else about their character matters?
I don’t think so. This hypothetical man is absolutely in the wrong, but I think we should still see him as a complete, complex, and flawed human being whose actions won’t change due to prohibition or complete ostracization.
To me, this mindset that there is an absolute binary for some things is very dangerous and unhelpful in our society. If any person says, “They support Trump/Clinton so they are evil/wrong/not worth talking to” then they just dehumanize a fellow human whose views may be complex and nuanced. Are they going to change their mind if they are cast out because of one thing?
If a politician says that they are pro-life/pro-choice are we better off if that is the ONLY issue that is important? That we view their morality, their character, their value by one hyphenated word instead of listening to them and trying to understand their point of view.
I think we need more nuance, more discussion, and more forgiveness. If someone is afraid that they are going to lose their family, lose their friends, lose their job, or anything else because they made one mistake or hold one contrarian point of view, what incentive do they have to come clean or to share their thoughts?
None of us can grow as people if we automatically decide one thing makes another person deeply flawed and unforgivable. Not only do we harm that person but we harm ourselves.
Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?
Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions: pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”