As a married woman who has been in a number of transgressive relationships, I wonder if it takes an especially curious or passionate person to search for emotional danger, or whether I have a character flaw. Do you think it is unethical or amoral to be in a clandestine relationship? Or, do you think when you meet someone you love, you have no choice?
–a good listener in New York
Secret relationships suck. I can never handle the stress of lying, so I end up confessing (in order to relieve my stress and make myself feel better), and hurting the person I confess to. Nonetheless, I don’t have a sterling record when it comes to defending the ramparts of fidelity.
Does it take an especially curious or passionate person to search for emotional danger? Sounds good… as a big fat excuse for cheating. The truth is this – it takes someone with fewer personal boundaries to pursue emotional danger. Is that a character flaw? It depends on whether your lack of boundaries enriches your life, or if it just puts you in risky situations.
Is it unethical and amoral to be in a clandestine relationship? I’ll have to go with “yes.” In fact, I think adultery is one of the main reasons they made up words like ethical and moral.
“The psychology of adultery has been falsified by conventional morals, which assume, in monogamous countries, that attraction to one person cannot coexist with a serious affection for another. Everybody knows that this is untrue.”
-Marriage and Morals Bertrand Russell
This might be the granddaddy of all moral dilemnas. Many people would disagree with me, “there is no dilemma, and one should simply never cheat. That view fails to recognize that adultery is commonplace in many perfectly decent countries around the world (and by decent, I don’t mean France).
At least in rhetoric, America is the biggest anti-cheating country in the world. The president of Greece had an affair with a porn star, left his wife, and still got re-elected.
There are three reasons America is so anti-cheating.
Reason 1- American women won’t let you cheat (since you’re a woman yourself, this probably isn’t pertinent to your particular situation, but it gives me an opportunity to ramble). I met a guy in Argentina who told me about all the affairs he had. When I asked him how he got away with it, he said that every guy in Argentina had affairs and that it was expected. Instead of saying “its a man’s world,” we should say, “its a men-living-in-foreign-countries’ world.” Let’s face it – American men lost the battle. Guys all over the world (some from completely lame countries) are laughing at us. Some coffee farmer in Uruguay is thinking to himself, “sure, you got your fancy Starbucks and your laptop computers, but I can cheat on my wife.”
Reason 2- Americans love property. The Commies were always the bad guys because they threatened that most sacred of American institutions, MY STUFF. And when MY STUFF refers to the genitals of our spouse, people get even more possessive than usual.
Reason 3- Americans suffer from “Super-Special-Syndrome”. As part of that wholly misdirected self-esteem thing, we’re all taught that each of us is super-special. “My personality is special, my thoughts are special, my sense of humor is special, my genitals are special (I actually saw a sticker at a political rally that said ‘Vaginal Pride’). We all think we’re pretty ding-dang special. When someone cheats on you, it completely annihilates that feeling of super-specialness. Sadly, no matter how much you love someone, if they deny your super-specialness, you must break up with them. At least, that’s the current thinking.
As for your final question, does one have a choice (about cheating) when one falls in love with another person? I think that’s the old ‘Free Will’ question. I like to believe we always have a choice. However, love is a powerful force that often transcends traditional ideas of morality.