Friday, April 9, 2010

Infidelity in the Public Eye: When Society Plays Judge and Jury

Though statistics about adultery vary widely, even conservative estimates put one in four marriages as victim. Some go so far as to say 60% of marriages are subject to infidelity. But even one in four means that most of us know plenty of others who are in the same situation as we are. But do we know them? While we might be aware of a few friends' marriages that fell apart due to cheating, there are likely plenty more that stayed intact and in which the partners kept the infidelity under wraps. Which means there's a lot of us invisibly wounded listening to all the commentary about various public infidelities – Tiger, John Edwards, Jesse James – and feeling a wee bit uncomfortable.
With Tiger's return to the golf course yesterday, I was subject to plenty of discussion regarding his addiction ("addiction -- ha!" scoffed many), his wife's actions ("she should just take his money and find a decent man!") and Tiger as role model (no less than Augusta chair Billy Payne noted that Tiger has disappointed all of us...and our children). While I simply repeated the fact that he's a golfer, not the Dalai Lama, and if we're idiotic enough to set up men who are paid enormous amounts of money to play a game as role models, then we have no-one but ourselves to blame when it turns out their moral compass doesn't always point true north.
But regardless, it puts us in an uncomfortable position. If these men are scum, then what does that make our spouses (scum, in some cases...but certainly not all). And if the women who stay are doormats, what does that say about us? If those who leave are champions of wives everywhere, what does that say about us?
The thing is we live in a world that loves things to be black and white, evil and good, wrong and right. And yet...lives are inevitably shaded in grey. I, for example, do a lot of work around environmental issues. A wealthy woman I know recently bought herself a tiny Smart car, a symbol of environmental responsibility. Of course, she also has an Escalade. An enormous house. And a boat. So...what does that make her purchase of a Smart car, which was bought more as a status symbol than in a desire to reduce fossil fuel consumption? Does it make it right (she's now burning considerably less fuel as she drives around)? Or wrong (it nonetheless takes resources to produce any item, whether "green" or otherwise and she could use her feet or a bike. Or sell her Escalade and donate the money to the Sierra Club)? The thing is, it's not black or white. As my husband pointed out to me, doing the right thing (a more fuel-efficient car) for the wrong reason (status) is still the right thing.
Which is a long way of saying that none of us should really stand in judgement of anyone else. While we love to call cheaters cads and scumbags, it's not always that simple. And women who stay aren't necessarily doormats and those who leave aren't necessarily champions.
So please, all you judges of morality. Stop broadcasting your opinions of every public figure that cheats. Given the one in four statistic, methinks you doth protest too much.

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