Smudged lines and grey areas.

Image: Flickr/Jcoterhals

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?

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

14 Comments

  1. Vegemitevix
    27th July 2010 / 11:11 pm

    Nicely put Sally, well done. I think no one outside of a relationship can see all that goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes there are good reasons for behaviour that you might find distasteful. There’s the other side of the married friends cheating behaviour to consider and that’s what on earth do you tell their wives, your friends? Is it worth hurting your friends? Not usually. And that is how the cheated on wife is always the last to know.

  2. 27th July 2010 / 11:56 pm

    Ouch. Now I’m wondering which guys I know would do such a thing…

  3. diane
    28th July 2010 / 1:53 am

    I don’t think it’s realistic or fair to judge people for most things, to be honest. People are complicated, and often messed up, and trying to find their way and do their best. They need all the compassion we’re able to give whether they’re cheating or cheated on, because I really doubt either partner in that situation is truly happy.
    I do know from experience that infidelity in a marriage with kids can really hurt the children, more than many people realise. And I think when someone with kids cheats, they do cheat on their whole family. But that old cliche of infidelity being “just a symptom that something else is wrong”, to quote or paraphrase When Harry Met Sally, is so true. And while I’d find it hard to be friends with a serial cheat with no conscience, if a good friend started having an affair, I couldn’t condone it, but I wouldn’t condemn them. People are so weird (and by weird I mean”different from me in many ways”, of course) and so imperfect, that I think we have to kind of make peace with that. Someone I’m close to has cheated more than once, and I don’t love that, but I do love him.

  4. John
    28th July 2010 / 9:01 am

    65% of men and 40% of women, apparently – although who knows if you can trust the stats you find online…

  5. 28th July 2010 / 9:25 am

    Absolutely, it’s a horribly complex situation and the wives are almost always the last to know for that very reason.

  6. 28th July 2010 / 9:27 am

    You make a great point that infidelity can affect whole families, not just spouses. I also agree that infidelity is a symptom of something being wrong but that wrong thing can’t always be fixed – a disability that kills off the physical relationship for example, or someone’s confusion about their sexuality.
    Oh, and I love your definition of weird!

  7. 28th July 2010 / 9:28 am

    Sounds similar to figures I’ve seen. Although I suspect that’s over a lifetime rather than at any given moment, or none of us would get anything done.

  8. 28th July 2010 / 10:14 am

    Lordy that’s a depressing post. I’ve known of a couple of affairs at our office and one bloke who now no longer works here is a serial husband & father, he gets the itch after about 5 years and just ups sticks and moves on.
    I think there’s another interesting stat that interacts with this and that is the number of people raising someone else’s children (ie step parent). In the States, 50% of under 13s have one step parent. I think it shows the increasingly casual nature of family life.
    There are some other interesting stats on marriage- there’s something like a 50% failure on 1st marriages, that jumps to 65% for 2nd marriages and the heady heights of the mid 70’s for 3rd marriages. You’re statistically more likely to end up divorced if you cohabit first too.
    My personal thoughts on the reasons for infidelity or relationship breakdowns stem with mens inability to distinguish between lust and love. Men fall in lust with women all the time and often get confused.
    The Greeks had 4 different words for love, eros, agape, philia and storge (the latter not the most romantic sounding word) and its good to think of these as different aspects of love, spanning intimacy, friendship, affection and true love. I think far too many relationships aren’t based on a good mix of the four and by the time you find out you’re too far in to make extrication anything other than painful.
    Anyway, just a few random stream of conciousness thoughts from me there- sorry.

  9. Holly@itsamummyslife
    28th July 2010 / 8:39 pm

    I have thought about this a lot lately. A friend of mine (yes a real friend not just me pretending like they do in bad soap operas) has been having an affair. She has 2 kids, 5 and 2 years old and a seemingly lovely husband. She’s cheating with an albanian drug dealer. I have no idea why she is doing it, but she’s my friend and far from judge her I have tried really bloody hard to understand her. Aside from the infidelity and how that would destroy her family, he’s a drug dealer for christ sake. It’s just stupid. However I do think that it’s possible to fall out of love, children put even more pressure on a relationship, well they do in mine. I have really had bleak moments of wondering if it’s really worth it, but to be honest I just think about the children. I would be devastated if my husband had an affair, but in a really odd kind of way I think I’d understand. Sometimes you need an escape and I think for men that’s more physical some times than it is for women.
    Bit of a ramble. Sorry.

  10. diane
    28th July 2010 / 10:01 pm

    You’re right, and in those cases I do feel it’s more of a grey area. I think the “put yourself in their shoes” cliche can be really helpful in trying not to judge people. I’m not sure I wouldn’t do the “wrong thing” in that situation, and I’m not sure it wouldn’t turn out to be the “right thing” in the long run.
    And ha, thank you!

  11. 28th July 2010 / 10:17 pm

    “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”.
    Thats the most insightful comment I’ve seen on this subject and it rings so very true.

  12. Hairy Farmer Family
    28th July 2010 / 10:48 pm

    What MyLifesChaotic said, with bells on.

  13. 1st August 2010 / 9:49 pm

    Age brings realism – 90% of the senior guys in my office cheat on their wives, all it does it make me increasingly negative about the likelihood my marriage will survive. It doesn’t change that I’ll work with them and socialise with them – what they do in their down time is their thing not mine to judge

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