Are you really surprised Arnold Schwarzenegger was cheating on his wife? Were you surprised Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, 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. According to the Associated Press, 90 percent of Americans believe adultery is morally wrong, yet between 25 to 50 percent of married women and 50 to 65 percent 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, affecting 80 percent of marriages. Picture a room of 10 people; between 2 to 8 of those people are or have been cheaters. You might even have to count yourself.
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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 necessarily 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.
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We take for granted that monogamy is the gold standard for relationships, 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 But we could stop and consider a third option; that perhaps there’s something outdated or ill-fitting for some of us, about the structure, confines and pressures of monogamy itself.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 Arnold, Tiger, Bill, Jude – or those fictional 2 to 8 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?