One of my all-time favourite song lyrics is by Bob Dylan, a track called My Back Pages. It goes:
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now
It’s a song about how when we’re young we’re so smart that we see the world is black and white and we understand it all. We know what’s wrong and what’s right. Then we get older and somehow less smart – the edges start to lose their definition, you see smudges and grey areas and you realise you don’t truly understand most of what goes on around you.
Two recent posts by Jo and Vicki, both about infidelity, made me think of these lyrics. I think of them increasingly often lately, for one reason or another. I think it’s easy to make a snap judgement about people who do things you don’t like, or wouldn’t do. And, after all, only a complete fuckwit would sleep with someone else when they’re married, right?
Five years ago I’d have said, unequivocally, people who cheat are fuckwits. And if I’d been married to a guy who cheated on me, I’d have waited until he left the country on a business trip, changed the locks and faxed him the name of my divorce lawyer. Hypothetically speaking. *cough*
But one of the things that’s kind of interesting about being a single Mum is that once word gets around of your newly single status, you start getting offers from (married) male friends. People who used to come to your dinner parties and barbecues, who invited you to their kids’ christenings and their wedding blessings are suddenly on your doorstep at 10pm with a bottle of wine and an invitation to ‘cheer you up’.
Now, these guys are your friends so things are more complicated than just dismissing them as fuckwits. You know they’re good guys with good hearts. After all, you have seen firsthand that they’re great fathers and providers, you know that they love their wives. They’re good guys. But on the basis that you’re almost certainly not the only person they’ve propositioned, you have to deal with the fact they’re cheats. And if you're friends with their wife, they've just put you in a pretty crappy position.
Of all my friends who I know have been unfaithful I can’t think of one who cheated because there was a blonde in the office who wore a short skirt, and temptation got the better of them. It’s almost always more complicated, more painful, more messy than that. It’s almost always a story about loss, depression, or disillusionment, or just the pragmatic realisation that while the physical part of a relationship might be dead, nobody wants to deal with the emotional or financial cost of a divorce and all it brings.
By the way, I'm talking about men here, I know, but that's because I'm a straight female so my experience is with guys. I'm sure most of the things that are said about married men could equally be applied to women.
Somewhere in my 20s I realised I could be friends with people who voted Conservative. Not best friends, maybe, but friends. And in my 30s I realised I could be friends with people who cheat on their wives. And maybe that I don't consider fidelity to be a necessity in a successful marriage.
Honestly, I know lots of people don't agree with me, and I do sometimes wonder if I'm growing up or just giving up. But in a world where 65% of men cheat on their wives at some point or other, is it realistic or fair to judge people so harshly for infidelity?