By LiYana Silver
Are you really surprised Tiger Woods was cheating on his wife? Were you surprised Bill Clinton, Jude Law, Leann Rimes, David Letterman, Jon Gosselin, Mark Sanford and Hugh Grant were? We shake our once-again disappointed heads over yet another public figure or leader who has proven to be a cheater, liar or hypocrite, but why exactly are we so surprised and disappointed? Of course it can feel like a betrayal when someone you look up to, a mentor, leader or teacher, turns out to have cracks in their morals. I’m not saying that all public figures, celebrities and leaders are cheaters, liars and hypocrites – I’m saying MOST OF US are cheaters, liars and hypocrites.
Hear me out. A large majority of us consider monogamy and sexual exclusivity to be the ideal structure for relationships and marriages, and a reported 90% of us believe that adultery is wrong; however, between 25-50% of married women and 50-65% of married men admit to having affairs. And since not all of those cheaters are married to each other, the numbers of those engaged in infidelities increases dramatically. Picture a room of 10 people; between 2-6 (or more) of those people are or have been cheaters. You might have to count yourself.
We cry for monogamy in morals, but our actions say something very different.
As hard on everyone as infidelity is, cheating deserves a closer examination. Cheating is defined by the context it is set in and the rules it breaks, not by the action itself. In one context, having a knife plunged into your abdomen in the middle of the night by a strange masked man could be a very bad thing; yet in another context, if you are suffering a burst appendix, you are wildly thankful for that surgeon’s scalpel. By one set of rules, copying out of the textbook in an exam is blatant cheating; in an open-book test, it is accepted and encouraged. It’s not the act of having sex, intimacies or emotional connections with people other than our partners that is inherently the problem, it’s the secrecy and dishonesty as well as the unexamined rules so many of us strive to live and love by.
We take for granted that monogamy is gold standard, and when we can’t manage it, we blame ourselves – or our partner. But we could stop and consider a third option; that perhaps there’s something outdated or ill-fitting for some of us, about the structure, confines and pressures of monogamy itself.
I’m not letting Tiger, Bill, Jude – or those fictional 2-6 of 10 folks in the room – off the hook for cheating, lying, deception and infidelity. Dishonesty is a tragedy for everyone. But does everyone who has an affair do it for the sole purpose of breaking up a family or betraying the trust of their loved ones? Are all cheaters callous cads, letting wanton selfish desires take precedence over the sacrifice and self-discipline that is often necessary in loving relationship? Are a majority of us simply just rotten, bad people?
With deep respect to his wife and family, let’s also look at what Tiger (our token cheater) was going FOR, not just what he managed to mess up. It’s a powerful force; call it freedom, lust, limerance, infatuation, love, difference, otherness, intimacy, desire, or thrilling newness. For as long as there have been partners to cheat on, we humans have risked loved ones, jobs, careers, nations, our lives – and endorsements – for this force. It’s powerful, enlivening stuff, of which it seems we’d jeopardize just about anything for a taste, and which is as much a part of our humanity as is our integrity and honesty. It deserves to be dealt with head-on, with a healthy dose of respect.
Has monogamy outstayed its evolutionary welcome?
We’ll discuss this in Part 2 of this post.
About LiYana Silver
LiYana Silver is a relationship counselor, author, teacher and speaker, living in San Francisco with her extraordinary fiancée, Nathan and their cat Mishka. For more about LiYana and her work, visit her at www.redefiningmonogamy.com.