In North America there is a stigma against cheating in a way that isn't as prevalent in the rest of the world. Maybe it was because America was founded by puritans or maybe it’s because of the focus on Christian values in North America, but we seem to care about cheating a lot more than the rest of the world. In other parts of the world, cheating is something that is if not accepted, then at the very least acknowledged. So what makes us so different?
While we revile cheaters and think that it’s the worst possible thing that can happen in a relationship, we also glorify it in our books and our movies. Think about the great romance movies like the Notebook or Titanic which no one questions but that both involve cheating. We can find romance and bravery in these movies even though we think that cheating is wrong and we justify it by saying that one man wasn’t right for that woman or that the wife didn’t treat her husband right. On the silver screen the rules seem to bend and we accept what we wouldn’t accept outside of the movie theatre.
When it comes to extramarital affairs, the reasons for cheating can be so varied and different that it’s almost impossible to pigeonhole what people who are having extramarital affairs are doing it for.
Perhaps it is because the end result ends up being the same, but when it comes to cheating we don’t ever seem all that interested in why they cheat. Take Anthony Weiner and his recent infidelity which has become a very public area of conversation due to his mayoral race. We’re interested in what he did and what he said, the sexual intentions that he had but we do not ask why it was he cheated or try to analyze what he was doing it for.
Was it due to his ego or is it because there’s something missing in his marriage? While the only one who will ever know is Mr. Weiner himself, we are quick to cast judgement on those who we think are stepping over the line. Public censure in regard to our celebrities, our politicians and the people who are in the spot light sells papers and gives the media something to scandalize you in order to make a bigger deal out of what should be a personal issue.
Why is there the double standard when it comes to how we react to extramarital affairs in fiction versus extramarital affairs in the real world?
We romanticize affairs and by doing so we endorse them, sending out mixed messages to those who feel that something is missing in their marriage. We make affairs seem like they’re the best thing in the world and then punish people harshly for daring to have them, when affairs are much more mundane and wonderful than either of those options. They’re a deeply personal choice that helps people to find what they’re not getting from their marriages and that can help people to find happiness in some instances.
What we need is to find some middle ground about affairs and adopt an attitude that is more common in other parts of the world where affairs are not huge scandals, but are still acknowledged. Rather than fantasy or censure, we need to be more realistic in the way that we talk about people and the relationships that they have whether we agree with their choices or not.
Finally, we need to learn to check our judgement at the door. This is hard in the current world where you will have thousands of people being judgemental whether they understand or not. Even if you look to a less contentious issue than cheating, you can find these snap judgements without knowledge or understanding. Look at the racist comments that the newly crowned Miss America got when people looked at her skin colour and decided that she had to be a Muslim extremist.
It’s time for a reality check, people. Come on.