Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Infidelity. Le Trauma de jour.

Politicians and preachers, judges and gardeners, teachers and undertakers, plumbers and podiatrists, chefs and supermarket check-out clerks . . . it can and does happen to people at every level and circumstance of life. An anonymous phone call, a slip of the lip, a note on the windshield, unexplained charges on the Visa bill, or a pair of bikini underwear in your glove compartment (a la Crusie's book). . . and suddenly "cheating" is a factor in your otherwise happy life.

These days, it's called "infidelity," which sounds less sleazy. . . unless you're on the receiving end. Then, no amount of verbal-sleight-of-hand can cosmeticize the situation, or excuse, explain, or expunge the hurt. Infidelity means breaking a vow and jeopardizing the legal, societal, and moral contract that is marriage. It has legal ramifications, not to mention attendant emotional and financial complications. If economists could put a dollar figure to what it costs society in terms of legal fees, alimony and child support, health and mental health costs, and justice system costs. . . it would probably rival the national debt.

Interestingly, in this presidential election year, nobody has yet made stamping out infidelity a part of their political platform. Can't seem to get the politicians behind that one. Hmmmm.

According to a number of news sources, the recent revelations of "infidelity" in the State House of New York and the unsettling pictures of the governor making speeches with his wronged wife at his side, have set off a rash of talks between wives and husbands about extra-marital affairs and their consequences.

A surprising number of spouses have found themselves in agreement on the subject: infidelity is an irretrievable wrong, an unforgivable breach of trust. But an equal number have found themselves shocked to disagree. . . one partner believing it's unfortunate but understandable in this sex-drenched society and the other partner believing there is no excuse for seeking satisfaction outside of marriage.

Is it ever "just sex"? (Susie Law, you're so on the leading edge!)

I can't count the number of conversations I've had about watching Silda Spitzer stand there beside her free-spending, pro-loving husband, listening to him apologize to the voters and defend his "accomplishments" in government. . . hearing him say he needed to "heal myself and heal my family". . . putting himself first even when talking about who needs healing. I have yet to meet a woman who says she would stand by her husband as he apologized for his ten year habit of buying expensive prostitutes.

I remember a number of similar conversations when Bill Clinton got caught in his sex scandal in the White House. I don't recall Hilary standing beside him as he made his mea culpas, but she certainly did appear with him and their daughter immediately afterward, as they left for Camp David. A lot of women then said that in her place, they would probably feel they had to put a good face on it and try to work things out for the good of the country. But that after they left the White House, it would be splitsville. We all wondered if their marriage would survive a year after they left Washington for New York. Clearly, it did. Just goes to show, you never really know what goes on inside a marriage.

Do you think there is a difference in these scandals? One toyed with young, vulnerable interns, the other just flat-out paid some pros. Or is it the commercial angle-- paying extravagant sums for sex with no illusions of romance-- that makes so many women (me included) come down hard on this Spitzer guy? Or is it the fact that he had claimed the moral high ground in politics and had self-righteously prosecuted/pursued others while living his own dirty little lie?

And while we were watching the happenings in New York, some guys still weren't getting the message to watch their P's and Q's (especially where they put their P's!). . . because Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow's husband was caught in a police sting after having paid $150 for sex with a prostitute. A bit of a twist on the usual. . . the wife the politico and the hubby the errant spouse. Can't help wondering if that marriage will hang together after such a public wound.

A lot of people shrug and say it's no big deal-- a person's private missteps shouldn't disqualify him or her for public office. Especially when it comes to sex. Others say we have to take such behavior into account: a person who betrays the trust of his/her spouse and family surely can't be counted on to keep the public's trust. Is that naive in today's world?

Europeans think we Americans are ridiculously immature about this. Mistresses and affairs and semi-public dalliances have been the unwritten rule there for a couple of thousand years. To many Europeans, even today, marriage is a legal/social commitment that can be honored and upheld apart from the requirement of sexual fidelity. Is this the trend of our future, too?

And of course, there are those who point out that there have been infidelities in the White House before. . . Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson. . . it was just that we didn't KNOW about them at the time. Are we just getting too much information, here?

So what do you think? Is monogamy too much to ask in this "enlightened" age? Are we Americans hopelessly naive to expect decency and morality of our political figures? More importantly, do you think it's possible for a couple to truly put an infidelity behind them and have a loving marriage afterward? If you were Mrs. Spitzer, would you have stood by your man?


Helen Brenna said...

Hmmm. Lotta food for thought, Betina. I have such mixed emotions on this topic.

Monogamy doesn't seem to be too much to ask, but, on the flip side, we live so much longer that it may be unrealistic. A fantasy.

Politicians' sex lives falls into the TMI category for me. Our media latches onto this stuff like rabid dogs. I appreciate Obama's candidness with regard to smoking pot. Yeah, he smoked it, and yeah he inhaled. That's the point, he said. We need to be careful or we won't have "real" people running for office.

Then again, I do expect honesty and morality from political officials. My ideas of morality, though, are individual.

I think a couple can try to put infidelity behind them, but I think very few would honestly succeed. How would that trust ever be complete again?

Absolutely, I would not have stood by Spitzer had I been his wife. He touted himself as a moral, legal watchdog. What a liar. On that, I'm not at all conflicted!

Michele Hauf said...

I agree with Helen that perhaps monogamy is too much to expect. From anyone. But really, it's none of my business what a person does in their sex life. And when it is flashed across the TV screen on the nightly news, then that's just too much information.

Not sure what I would say about 'putting this behind' and moving on, if I were in that position. But I can imagine how a divorce would really solve a problem.

Michele Hauf said...

Bother. That should read I 'can't' imagine how a divorce would solve the problem. But perhaps it was a Freudian slip I need to analyze. Hmm... :-)

Betina Krahn said...

Helen, I'm with you on the TMI thing. Maybe it was better when we didn't have such access to celebrity and VIP bedrooms and private lives.

Michelle, I'm not sure divorce is the answer either. . . it just creates a lot of new problems, not the least of which is the effect on the children.

Forgiveness and mending a marriage requires work on both spouses' parts. Maybe I'm just weak here, but I don't think I would have attended a news conference as a "prop" for a man who had hurt and deceived and shamed me publicly like that. Call me callous. . .

MsHellion said...

Lord, Betina, you do ask the big questions.

I don't know. I figure I'm disqualified by the fact: I've never been married...nor in a committed relationship that's lasted over 7 months. Of course, considering the statistics, maybe I'm single for that unconscious reason.

I don't know. Even if marriage wasn't the issue...say you were just in a long-term committed relationship, and you found him cheating...wouldn't the trust still be broken? Wouldn't you still be devastated?

It's TRUST, I think, that's the problem; and I think Americans tend to pride themselves on being "trustworthy", so to speak. A man's word is his bond. Shake a hand and it's as good as a contract. So you've signed your name to a contract to love, honor, and cherish someone--and what do you do? You break the trust.

Europeans have another 2000 years of written history, where everyone had their own agenda and was putting themselves first. I think that's why it's more accepted. A sort of acceptance that makes as much sense as when slavery was kept because "that's just the way it is."

Of course, you said it. The political guy was still putting himself FIRST rather than his family, which he'd broken because he was putting himself first. I think in an age where we've been conditioned to "look out for number one" and do what feels good...and make ourselves happy (because we're the only ones who can)--we can't help but do these things that betray the trust of our loved ones...and end up on national TV, explaining why we're paying for prostitutes.

I think when people make the effort to place their spouse's happiness before their own (and their spouse does the same)--that's when you have the happy marriages.

Betina Krahn said...

I think you've got it, Mshellion. Infidelity is putting ourselves and our desire-of-the-moment before the needs and welfare of those we claim to love.

When we think of others welfare and of the good of our marriage before other giddy desires, then we're committed to something bigger and finer than just what makes us feel good.

But when you think of all the stress and anguish and separation and scrutiny politicians put their families through. . . they have to be pretty strongly self centered to do that in the first place.

Anybody else watching John Adams on HBO? Interestingly, this is the very thing that dogged him his entire life. He had a magnificent career, despite his arrogance and ego. But his wife and family always came second or third. . . and if it wasn't for his wonderful wife, Abigail, he wouldn't have had either a career or a family. He and his ambitions always came first, even when it came to running his sons' lives and making them pursue the careers he wanted them to have.

Maybe it just goes with the political territory. It would be interesting to know if the women politicians have a similar strain of selfishness in them that causes their husbands to feel demeaned and makes them feel justified in cheating.

flip said...

If you don't want to committed relationship, don't get into a committed relationship. I respect George Clooney in his honesty about his relationships. He doesn't want a committed relationship.

OTOH, if I make a commitment, I expect a commitment from my partner. Frankly, I don't understand the concept of an open marriage involving affairs and mistresses. Such a marriage would be too passionless and businesslike for me. I don't need to marry for children or for financial support or for poltical reasons.

I love my husband. But I also believe that together we are both better persons. The life we share is greater than what either could have achieved individually. After 26 years, I still believe this. Sex and intimacy is an important part of the glue that holds a marriage together. I don't think that you can share sex or intimacy with third parties and maintain your marriage.

I would never cheat on my husband because I would never want to risk losing his love and respect. If my husband cheated on me, I would know that our marriage was over. It would mean that he loved someone else. I can't imagine my husband cheating on me for sex alone.

Betina Krahn said...

Hey, that brings up another issue: is cheating ever justified?

I've known of situations where one spouse(usually the male)says "well my wife wouldn't sleep with me" or "I was shut out of her life". . . a variation on the old "she made me do it-- it's her fault I cheated on her" defense.

But sometimes we have to wonder if that's true: if one partner withdraws and wrecks the marriage by abandoning it, does that mean the spouse is justified in seeking solace elsewhere?

MsHellion said...

Yes, but that excuse is such a vicious circle. I think women withdraw into their "icy shell" because they feel they can't be emotionally open to their husbands, because they've done something "small" to break some part of the emotional trust. I think a lot of women withdraw to lick their wounds; men take it as a physical slap to the face--if she turns down sex, she's rejecting me on all levels...so I'll find someone who won't reject me.

Though I've known women who use sex as a sort of bargaining chip, emotional manipulation technique...and I don't think that's right either. But we're humans. We do what works, whether it's right or not, whether it'll blow up in our faces or not. (Though it amazes me when people choose to do something so self-destructive and then they're so "surprised" when it explodes. I mean, seriously were you expecting anything different, really?)

I don't know. I don't know if there is any real justification. I can *understand* it because I get the human frailties where we are bent on our own self-destruction, but motive is rarely rational. Motive is emotional.

Playground Monitor said...

When you say "I do" on your wedding day you are also saying "I don't" to anyone else. Period. IMHO, cheating is never justified. If the marriage has broken down and one spouse has shut out the other, dissolve the marriage but don't cheat.

As for divorce as a solution, isn't it better for children to COME from a broken home than to live in one?

I could not have stood beside Elliot Spitzer like his wife did. Hell, had I been her, he wouldn't have been able to stand up because I'd probably have had Benny and Guido break his legs. *g* The marriage would have been over as soon as possible. I found his whole situation particularly disgusting because he held himself up as such a paragon of virtue. Same way I felt about Ted Haggard, the minister who railed on about gays until his gay lover stepped forward to expose him. Let's throw another word into play here -- hypocrisy.

I've seen the effects of infidenlity on a family from experience with in-laws. It ain't pretty.


Betina Krahn said...

I agree, Mshellion-- neither sex has a lock on the high ground in this matter. I think cheating on vows is an equal opportunity activity. And there can be major manipulation on both sides before cheating begins.

Marilyn, you brought up another aspect-- hypocrisy. Yes, there are lots of people who throw stones, then have their own front windows bashed in later. Like the Florida congressman who sponsored a bill in congress to protect kids against sexual predators and then was caught propositioning high school age congressional pages!!

And yes, divorce can be a much better alternative than subjecting kids to the anger, abuse, and dysfunction of a marriage gone irretrievably bad. But can it also be an easy out? The whole idea of "starter marriages". . . if it doesn't work out, you can just get a divorce and move on to bigger and better.

Are we dealing with this stuff in our books? Do we want to be this relevant? If so, how do we go about it? Can we create stories of love redeemed and positive, loving relationships recaptured? Or is that a little too real for most romance readers? Whaddaya think?

Ever read a "infidelity" in a romance book that actually worked for you?

Kathleen Eagle said...

Yes, I do think Americans are immature in their thinking about sex. We're still Puritans. Their uniforms were basically black and white. For myself and my own behavior, I confess to being about a Puritanical as they come. It's been the central conflict of my life--seeing myself as Liberal (cap intended) and open-minded, but functioning in a pretty staid manner and at this point comfortable with that. For myself.

Intellectually, I'm convinced that marriage must be separated into two two entities: the civil and the spiritual. Marriage is a legal state of affairs. Throughout history it has been arranged to provide social stability. Two people enter into a legal contract, and society pretty much determines what kind of duty they will have to each other, according to the terms of the contract. It is also a state of mind, body, and soul--spiritual in some way--and therein lies whatever moral obligation people believe in, according to the teaching they've ascribed to and the dictates of their human hearts. And then there's human biology, but our society is SO conflicted on that subject.

Professionally, I'm really interested in how all this pushes and tugs on the human spirit. For a long time in our genre we could barely dip a story-telling finger into shades of gray. I'm glad that's changing. I think it brings some depth to the work, a third dimension to the landscape. I'm not saying we need a steady diet of the real world, but it's good to be able to throw some of Betina's questions into the mix.

I tell you, the image of Mrs. Spitzer and others standing next to that podium churns up a lot of stuff. At first glance it seems so simple, so obvious, but put your writer's mind and your female heart into it, and one "what if?" begets another.

flip said...

I think that keeping a marriage full of passion and excitement takes work on the parts of both parties. Sex should never be an obligation or an chore. It isn't barter. If you aren't willing to put in the effort, don't ask for sex. If you are always too tired for sex, you need to rework your life.

Unless there is serious medical reasons, a lack of sex indicates an unhealthy marriage. An affair is an easy solution to no sex. But if you care about your marriage and partner, you would work on what is wrong in your marriage.

An affair is justified in a historical romance novel, when the heroine is married to a cruel man and divorce is not an option..

Playground Monitor said...

Starter marriage -- never heard that one before. But I do agree that it's just too easy to get married in the throes of lust and divorce later when the lust wears off and you decide you really don't like this person. I don't want to see divorce so difficult to get that people are trapped in truly bad or abusive relationships. But there should be a happy medium.

A family friend is a retired priest and he often comments that many couples today spend more time and effort on the wedding than they do on the marriage. They're so concerned about the dress and flowers and reception they forget about the work and commitment required to keep a marriage afloat.

I worked with a young woman years ago who at age 29 was already on husband #4. At the time the DH and I had just celebrated our 20th anniversary (#35 is next month). She looked at me and asked "Don't y'all ever fight?" My answer was that yes we often disagreed on things but we didn't call a divorce attorney every time we did." If so, the DH would have been gone the first month after he insisted I fix junk for breakfast that I not only don't like but is terribly unhealthy. ;-)

Interesting comment on being Liberal yet staid. I don't think being Conservative gives you a market on morals. Lately it seems it's been just the opposite.

And in Dear Abby today she devoted the whole column to abuse and misuse of pastoral authority. It's truly sad when you can't trust the people who are supposed to have a rock solid moral compass.


Debra Dixon said...

I've been married over 30 years to a man who travels a lot. You have to have trust. You have to like each other a lot! And I don't think fidelity is too much to ask.

I'm not a proponent of divorce, but I think if you want to cheat on your spouse, you should have the guts to tell them before you do. Get permission or get divorced.

The problem is greed. Spouses won't be honest because divorce is painful financially. Painful on their time as one becomes a single parent or one loses time with their children.

I also think the woman who marries the man she helped cheat on his wife is just plain stupid.

And finally I think there are marriages which function well but the parties have no illusion of fidelity. I think, maybe, lots of the power couples operate that way. For them, sex outside their marriage is maybe no more hurtful than the spouse leaving for a hobby activity like bowling.

To each his own, but I am NOT standing beside you on the podium when you have to tell the world how stupid you are with money. I'm more ticked at Spitzer for the fiscal irresponsibility than I am for the sex. LOL! I hate stupid men and paying that much for sex is just plain stupid when you can get an intern to do it for free.

Melissa said...

Whoa, deep subject. I'm very much in the TMI category. I think that it's probably been happening forever, and the media has just gotten to the point where there is no such thing as privacy. I'm not saying it's okay, or it's right...I'm just saying it's between spouses/family/friends how they handle. Even if they're an elected official...Morality is an issue that will never be resolved in American society, I think, because it is percieved so differently by so many.
But as far as Mrs. Politician standing by their men...I think it's about the situations, and each one is differnt. Hillary is a strong, strong woman. I dfoubt if she really truly took it laying down...but I just can't imagine standing up on that stage like the wife of the NY Senator and looking all forgiving and loving. Huh. I dunno what's right. I just know there are some things I DON'T want to know. LOL, does that make sense?? And does that make me morally irresponsible?? I'm more concerned about jobs, the economy, trade agreements, the cost of fuel, health care...I really could care less who they're sleeping with. I think it takes the focus away from where it truly needs to be.

Melissa said...

Forgot to say, great blog. Really got mind moving, btw. LOL, now I'll be on my soap box all night at work!!
He/he, my coworker will hate you!!

MsHellion said...

*LOL* I have to agree. I'm getting really tired of hearing about their love lives. I don't care what they're doing, who they're doing it with, or how many times. I want to know if you can do the job you're promising to do. Clearly on the guy who BOUGHT his sex, he can't do this job since he's illegally spending taxpayers dollars...but if he was tupping the intern and she was okay with it, and he managed to do all the other things he promised on his platform--I can't say I'd care if he wasn't true to his marriage vows. None of my business.

I don't get how they're supposed to be these "icons" we look up to and we can't look up to a guy who cheats on his wife. They're not icons. They're Politicians...and you have to be a little nuts to even want to do it to begin with.

Betina Krahn said...

Wow, this is really interesting! Our attitudes toward marriage are probably as varied as our family backgrounds and moral upbringing. But we all seem to feel that marriage is a commitment that should be honored. And if you feel you can't honor it anymore. . . you ought to have the guts and the decency to talk to your spouse about it.

Power couples. . . that's what a lot of people in the public eye are. . . and it does seem that the rules are a little different for them. They can choose the marriage with or without fidelity and it may work, depending on what sort of "contract" they have between them at the start of the marriage. It's all about expectations. This is where you really, really need to know the person you're marrying. . . is what you see and experience the genuine article or not? Do they have the same goals and values you have or don't they.

And if they're cheating on a spouse with you, you can bet they'll be willing to cheat on you if things dont' go their way in YOUR marriage. Doesn't anybody read Dear Abby anymore? She's so clear about this!

And Deb-- LOL about the intern doing it for FREE! I nearly choked on my iced tea when I read that!:) That's being a true, hard-nosed businesswoman!

Betina Krahn said...

Melissa, point your co-workers to our blog and tell them to cut loose with opinions themselves! That'll do the trick!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Melissa and others, I'm with you on the TMI where the sex, lies, and videotapes are concerned. I wish we could get back to the day when it wasn't hard news unless it had to do with the people's business. (Now it's hard if it's...well, you know, hard.) Sure, splash it all over the scandal sheets along with the Elvis sightings, but please give me real news in the Strib and the Times and the Post, for heaven's sake. Whatever happened to "news that you can count on"? Where's the next Walter Cronkite?

CBS is cutting costs all over the country by firing local anchors and weather guys who are pulling down big salaries. (The experienced people. Happened last week in the TC.) They've lost out to cable and the internet. And what kind of news do we get on cable? Whatever entertains. How many times have you heard the same three clips from the Wright sermons? How many times did we hear Larry Craig's pathetic denials? How often did we see the Spitzer announcement? Wasn't anything else going on in the world? Sex, religion, and politics. And preferably all three in the same headline. Worst of all, it doesn't have a thing to do with the price of eggs, gas or medical insurance.

I really don't care who these guys screw, as long as it isn't me. I want to know what they're spending my money on while they're raking in donations from lobbies. Unless it's illegal. I think prostitution is illegal in DC if it involves the sale of *sexual* favors. So Spitzer crossed the line. The idiot. Hang him by his hard news!

flchen1 said...

Ugh! I don't think monogamy's too much to ask, and maybe I'm hopelessly naive, but I would still like to be able to respect our political figures for being decent upright people as well as for their political skills--if you can't keep it together personally, I have a harder time getting behind you professionally.

I think it is possible to rebuild a marriage after infidelity but not without a great deal of work, and most likely God.

Thank God I'm not Mrs. Spitzer!

Apologies if it seems I'm being too flip about this topic--it's a personal ICK for me; I don't even enjoy reading stories that involve infidelity (I'm sorry, Susan--I haven't been able to work up to reading Just Sex yet even though I've loved all your other titles...) There's something fundamentally horrible to me about such a level of dishonesty.

Kimberly Van Meter said...

Infidelity is an emotional bomb that kills every soft and sweet feeling you once harbored for that person. I am disgusted by the flippant attitude our society has adopted when it comes to sex — not because I'm a prude — but because the sex saturating the airways, Internet and media has nothing to do with fostering a healthy, giving and satisfying monogamous relationship but rather tawdry, selfish, immature, and hurtful one-sided immediate gratification that only serves to chip away at the bond you share with a loved one.
Marriage after infidelity is possible but it's not easy and it's filled with roadblocks that aren't easily navigated without the help from a talented therapist and the stoic determination on both sides to heal the marriage because ultimately, that's what it's about. Infidelity happens when we stop paying attention to our partners needs and I'm not just talking about sexual needs but emotional needs as well.
As far as politicians go, I would never be one's wife. Infidelity and power positions go hand in hand for people who are paid to act convincingly to be whatever is needed at the moment to swing a vote or convince a spouse. Sad but true.
I hope Silda Spitzer punched her philandering prick of a husband right in the nuts for the sheer satisfaction of seeing him fall over in agony because that small pain is nothing compared to the humiliation and grief that woman is going through.

Betina Krahn said...

Amen, Kimberly! What you said! I think there were a lot of women who cared more about the wife than about the stupid, arrogant politician pleading mea culpa.

To answer my own question: I personally think that monogamy and fidelity are the least one can ask of a marriage partner-- even these days. But I also know my idea of marriage and love are not the ones the larger culture promotes.

Hollywood, magazines, and the purveyors of images and ideas constantly promote the idea that sexual intimacy is quick and easy and that sex as a pastime is everyone's right. Sex for sex's sake is everywhere-- we're bombarded with it. We're even accused of it. . . because of the covers of our books and the way they're represented. Only our readers understand that the packaging is now the same as the content. . . that our books talk about romance in the context of true caring and life fulfillment.

I don't think we're naive. . . I think American attitudes are evolved toward a higher standard and a higher plane of morality. And we darned sure better not blow it, because it appear we're as good as it gets in this world. We need to be an example and to hold our politicians to our true standards. . . not the old double standard!!

Enough said. Climbing down off the old soapbox and heading for a steaming cup of coffee.

Thanks, gals, for such a thoughtful and enlightening discussion!