According to Shawn Peters, fidelity simply requires less work for some men.
Alone at last, away from prying eyes, she steps close… closer than she should.
“This isn’t right. I’m a married man.”
Her lips pout for a millisecond, before spreading into a grin that is as wicked as it is wanton.
“I know,” she whispers. “I don’t care.”
I am intimately familiar with the above scene … but only because I’ve seen it in hundreds of movies and TV shows, and read it in more than a few books. This is the theatrical, dare I say “romantic” view of how a good man ends up straying. A flirtation goes too far. A seemingly innocent mid-life-crisis-crush is reciprocated. A few too many drinks and a few too inhibitions and suddenly, a faithful man is no longer faithful. I just have no idea if that’s how it ever really happens. I only know it’s never happened to me. Just as importantly, that also means I can’t claim to know for sure what I’d do if it ever did.
I’ll let my bio photo at the bottom of this page speak for itself, but I’ve always considered myself a decent looking fella. Above-average-adjacent on my best days. Not in bad shape. Quick to make a joke or pay a compliment, easy to talk to, and rarely flustered by the prospect of speaking to the fairer sex. No tattoos, no visible scars, and no speech impediments since I ditched the lisp in 6th grade. And I can honestly say that when I was younger and unmarried, finding romantic opportunities took some degree of work. Not necessarily hard work. But there was almost always an element of pursuit on my part, and the occasions where I was pursued and had to decide whether or not to embrace the opportunity (and the woman who was offering it) were novel to say the least.
Granted, my window as a single guy was outrageously short. I started dating my wife when I was just 19 and was married at the tender age of 23. But since becoming a married man, I’ve found that the same rules that applied to me when I was on the prowl still apply now; if I don’t go looking for it, it isn’t going to come to me. As such, I have so far been able to stay true to my marriage vows simply by not putting in the work it would take to break them. But I understand that’s not the case for every man.
For an extreme example, let’s talk Tiger Woods. While there can be no question that Eldrick turned out to be a serial-seed-sower who considered every tour stop a new opportunity to sink his putts in a new hole, we can also be sure that with his fame, money and looks, he would have had a steady stream of offers even if that hadn’t been his proclivity. So imagine if his failed marriage had been due to him straying once, and only once, and it had been an affair where he was stolen away by an equally famous woman a la the way Brad Pitt segued from Jennifer Anniston to Angelina Jolie. Would that have been as bad? Would it have made him less of a creep in the court of public opinion? Actors, politicians, athletes and musicians all have to deal with temptations that the rest of the “Hall Pass” set never encounter, myself included.
And then there are just those guys who have “it” and face many scenarios where they have to decide whether or not to keep “it” in their pants. The closest I’ve ever come to having to turn away an aggressive woman was on a drunken night out with co-workers a decade ago when one of my friends’ sister got hammered, blown up on Ecstasy and started hitting on every married man in our group. One of our more sober companions was there to keep things from getting out of hand, but that’s not a story of temptation vs. fidelity. It’s a tale of intoxication plus recreational chemistry. With that in mind … how hard has it been for me to be a faithful husband for the better part of two decades?
Not very, but it begs a second question.
Is all infidelity created equal? Or does one have to be tempted to be legitimately good? Mark Twain certainly thought so when he wrote “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg,” a short story about a self-professed virtuous town that crumbles the first time temptation is introduced to the community. The suggestion is no one knows whether their virtue is a fact or a façade until it’s faced a challenge or two.
Imagine two men standing next to each other. Both married ten years. Both just cheated for the first time. But Hubby #1 stepped outside his marriage after having dutifully turned down several other advances from women he was legitimately attracted to over the years, while Hubby #2 is a guy who has made a habit of taking off his ring whenever he travels for work, spending extra time in hotel bars, and finally hooked up the first time a woman actually responded to his come on. The day before they both cheated, there’s no question that the first fella was the better husband. The day after, are they the same? And are either of them definitively worse than a man who never crossed the line because he never had anything resembling a realistic chance to do so?
I’m asking, because so far, I’ve been able to be faithful husband just by not doing anything. Maybe that makes me lazy, although I’d like to think it makes me decent and committed to the non-negotiable importance of monogamy in my marriage. But I know for sure it makes me uncomfortable when it comes to evaluating other people’s fidelity, or lack there of. Don’t get me wrong. I’m saddened whenever I hear about one of my fellow men stepping outside his marriage, whether I hear about it in hushed rumors at a holiday party or blaring loud and lasciviously across a tabloid’s front page. But I do not rush to judge, because I’m aware that in the grand scheme of things, the only thing I can claim to have done well is … nothing.