15 April 2006

Infidelity: A Polemic

Chatting with a friend the other day, the topic of marital infidelity came up. Apparently someone she knows is flirting on the razor edge of that particularly messy disaster, and so she and I were tossing the concept around. Talking about how the internet has lowered the threshold of infidelity to where even the most reasonable of souls are suddenly tempted beyond the edge of reason by some person a thousand miles and ten milliseconds on the other side of a keyboard away, into betraying someone in the next room. The fact is, infidelity is being duplicitous, and nothing sucks your soul out your sneakers faster than duplicity. One of the best definitions of marriage I ever read was, believe it or not, in this wacky pathological Christian broadside paper. Bathroom reading in one of the weirder homes I was ever invited to. But anyway... their definition was that marriage is a unity of purpose. Two souls pointed in the same direction for the mutual and exclusive benefit of each other and their progeny, above and beyond all else. When a person starts screwing around, whether it's bodily fluids or brainwaves that are being exchanged, your energy is no longer in unity of purpose with your spouse. And that is just dishonest. That is making the decision to take something away from your marriage (your exclusive energy) without telling them. They'll notice the drain, and just not know why. And the whole damn thing goes pear-shaped. And then no one's happy, and it's this long, agonizing thing. You've probably guessed that I am the sort of person that yanks band-aids off in one rip, and who leaps into the ocean without first checking the temperature. I knew that my relationship with my Ex was going to hell. But the day I caught myself seriously fantasizing about another man, I went home and ended it. Because my energy had already left the building, you know? And from thinking to doing is such a tiny step, hardly worth mentioning. And from there, all that's really left is the creation and cleanup of the inevitable wreckage. But then, there's this other thing. This other thing is honor. I am a big believer in the idea that if I can't do it in broad daylight in the middle of the street (modesty forgiving, obvee), I have no business doing it at all. I like to think that if any part of my life ended up on a billboard, I'd be OK with that. I have had people argue with me, about the need for secrets, the need for privacy, the need to not tell certain things to certain people. Whatever. I can smile at my reflection in the mirror, and I sleep easy at night. Most of those folks are on happy meds. My favorite author, Lois McMaster Bujold (in "A Civil Campaign", which has got to be one of the finest novels in all human history), has written that reputation is what others know about you, but honor is what you know about yourself. And that nothing is more damning than when your reputation is sterling, but your honor is shattered. And that's what we're talking about. Something that you have to change your passwords over, that you have to burn when you're done writing it, that you have to choose who sees it because of the effect it would have... it corrodes you from the inside sure as Drano on the Rocks with a twist of lemon and salt on the rim. I'm certainly not saying stick it out in a miserable relationship, and I'm pretty sure that living your life based on the phrase "stay together for the children" gets you a front row seat on one of the rings of Dante's Hell, being serenaded for all eternity by Blink 182 (who may or may not be relegated to hell, but for sure make guest appearances there). All I'm saying is... maintain your integrity. And guard your honor. Let your reputation fall where it will. And don't get confused about which is which.

3 Comments:

At 4/16/2006 07:20:00 PM, Anonymous V said...

Hello L, Beautiful column, so true. In a lit class long ago the teacher talked about the romantic marriage vs. the coordinate marriage, or some such thing--marriage for adoration and excitement vs. marriage with purpose, excitement not required. It explained a lot--a lot about why people split up and why they stay together and where the dignity and honor is in those choices. Anyway, your column made me think of that and of that professor, and I thank you. I also agree completely with your comments about secrecy. There is dignity in not showing everyone your personal stuff. I'm all for boundaries and dignity. But secrets are something else again. When there are things people can't talk about--especially in a family--those secrets take on a power all their own. If it's not a secret, it stays the right size. Love, V

 
At 4/17/2006 11:36:00 AM, Anonymous kristi said...

Wow, I just found your blog and this really hit home for me. My husband and I have been in a tangled mess of infidelity and walking on the edge of honor and then plummeting over that edge for, let's see, 5 years now. It's been mostly devastating but there are moments when I am glad I'm still here. Ugh, it's a mess. Thanks for sharing.

 
At 4/18/2006 01:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Unity of purpose" - that might be true for some marriages, but it doesn't resonate for me. It will probably take a lifetime for me to figure out the purpose of my connection with dh, and I don't assume that his choice to share his life with me serves the same purpose. I would never present our marriage as perfect of course (as you know). But my experience is that the link between dh and me is manifested in ever-changing ways. We've been together for 14 years now, and in the worst of times I have never doubted that that we should be together.

 

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