Am I a Good Man, or Am I Just Lazy?

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.

 

—Photo Wha’ppen/Flickr

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About Shawn Peters

Shawn Peters is a creative director for Viewpoint Creative , as well as a writer whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and on ESPN.com. His upcoming novel “Plan.Be.” will be published as soon as he sells the damn thing. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnTweeters.

Comments

  1. Nice piece bro. I’ve heard you talk about your wife and I’m guessing your fidelity has something to do with how much you love her and your family.

  2. Anthony Zarat says:

    It is not just supply, it is also demand.

    Some men have no interest. Some husbands do not even notice women (other than their wives). Such a man might have been “approached” multiple times by a naughty lady with sin on her mind, and not even know it.

    As nicely as I can, I think it is both revealing and (somewhat) offensive that you presume that all men “desire” to stray, and consequently the only factor that differentiates a Twain hero from a Twain villain is availability. This plays into the prejudicial social expectation that all men are born beasts, and only (feminist) socialization can turn them into humans.

    I guarantee you, there are married men who have as much desire for “other” women as a gay man has for women. Nothing. No desire, no secret wishes, no longing, no tingling, nothing. Does this man deserve kudos for staying faithful? I don’t know.

    But I know this: such men exist, and they deserve recognition of their existence. More importantly, this type of “being” is as much a part of masculinity, as the vending-machine masculinity that you examine in your article.

    • Anthony, I appreciate the read… and the comment. You are certainly correct with your first and final points. There are some men who are “immune” to the entire issue of infidelity because they are so committed (or hardwired in a certain way) that all other women cease to be alluring once they have taken their marriage vows. Should they be commended? I don’t know. I kinda went out of my way to try and not commend or castigate anyone. But I’d agree with you that those who can’t even conceive of straying are the truest of the true because they are faithful in thought and in deed.

      That said, it feels like you’re inserting an agenda here. I never said anything about “all men.” You did in your comment, and it’s the first place you’ll find it on this page. At no point did I generalize about husbands wanting to stray as a rule. But we do know that men… and women… cheat on their spouses, and not infrequently, so it’s fair to assume that some of those men (this is a male-centric site) wanted to step outside their marriages and succeeded, while others wanted to stay faithful and failed to do so.

      Most of the married men I know, myself included, continue to find other women attractive and desirable after marriage and that’s why the issue of infidelity is even an “issue.” The question is whether they do anything about that issue. Do they pursue those attractions? If so, why? If not, why not?

      This piece was about admitting that I feel I have it “easy” in some ways. Fidelity is important to me and a non-negotiable fact of my marriage, but I admit to not having been tested in the way some men are. I’m wondering if there are other men who have found the same… or if I’m in the minority.

      • Anthony Zarat says:

        You and I are probably separated by sampling bias. We live in separate worlds.

        I live in a community of people who share a common bond: compassion for men and boys.

        I believe that, in most cases, when men learn to feel compassion for other men, they lose the ability to find women desirable or attractive in any way. I can find no beauty, allure, or seduction in anything that is female, either in form or in function. The myth is dispelled, the mystique has faded, the fog is lifted, and I see women in all their ugliness.

    • wet_suit_one says:

      “I guarantee you, there are married men who have as much desire for “other” women as a gay man has for women. Nothing. No desire, no secret wishes, no longing, no tingling, nothing.”

      The day I meet a straight, sexual (not asexual, which are a different kettle of fish altogether) male who fits this definition I’ll agree with you. I assume you’re not an asexual which I why I make the “sexual” distinction”. Until then, I call b.s.

      Of course, I already know that asexual men exist. I just don’t think that’s what you’re talking about. I also assume most women aren’t interested in asexual men either. I know they exist, but they are not representative of most men in the least.

      • I dunno, in my experience these men do exist. And by “these men” I mean straight, sexual, partnered men who have no desire for other women. They may not be the rule, but they’re definitely real.

        In fact, I’ve been one of them.

        I think of it more as a phase than anything else. During my second real relationship there was a period of time where women who weren’t my girlfriend had absolutely no sexual allure for me. I stopped keeping up with several flirtatious relationships, I stopped watching porn. Although I could still *appreciate* a beautiful woman, I didn’t *want* her.

        This lasted for almost 6 months.

        Now this was a relatively immature high school relationship. We both grew a lot as people, and ended up kinda growing apart and leaving for college. However, I completely buy that some guys – who have found relationships with women at the same place emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually as them – can maintain this phase for an extended period of time. And can rejoice in it.

        To be honest, it was nice to feel free of abstract, ennui-ish desire. But that’s a whole other issue.

  3. Sometimes overcoming temptation illustrates strength of an individual. Sometimes it illustrates the weakness of the temptation. It’s rare that I’ve been approached by a woman regardless of my relationship status unless I, in some way, open that door. Let’s face it, in a world where “tall, dark and handsome” is “typically” desired, “shorter, pasty-white and curiously attractive” doesn’t get a ton of unsolicited offers. (For the record and for those who don’t know, I’m a 5’6″, moon-white guy with auburn hair and hazel eyes. I look like the love-child of Seth Green and Dany Bonaduce. My saving grace is that I take my 147lb self to the gym daily and I don’t mind saying I’m pretty ripped – I need all the help I can get and that is one of the few things about my appearance within my control.)

    I maintain just enough insecurity and paranoia to think that if an unsolicited offer comes my way, it’s some kind of cosmic test or maybe even a trap. But the reality is that people are both transmitters and receivers. One will get as much attention as they invite via whatever method of communication is at play and regardless if it’s conscious or not: Verbal, physical, metaphysical, etc. If someone approaches another person, it is exceedingly rare it’s 100% random and/or uninvited in some way. This, of course, from the female-approaching-male angle. When the male is on the hunt, shotgun marketing might be a more common campaign.

  4. wet_suit_one says:

    Good article for the record. I wonder what women think of this article and theirc conceptions of “fidelity”?

  5. Don Draper says:

    “Ladies, your man is just as faithful as his options.” ~Chris Rock

    True or false? I hope, false, but I also think there’s a good bit of truth in that statement as well. How many married/committed men could have resisted Jennifer if she had run into your arms for comfort as Brad was walking out the door. The true question is not, “Am I a ‘philanderer’? But rather, WOULD I be, if someone of true temptation invited me?

    • Copyleft says:

      It’s a funny line, but it obviously doesn’t apply to all men everywhere.

      Here’s another for women to consider: “A man is only as faithful as his wife/girlfriend deserves.”

  6. I’ll share what I think Wet Suit one. *wink

    Well, it makes me wonder if men are only as loyal as their options. I sincerely DON’T want to think that’s the case. I even hate that phrase myself. And I do wonder if men hate that phrase nearly as much as I, as a woman, do.

    But between what Shawn is saying about his on fidelity, the fact that’s it’s never really challenged, in combination with all the stories of famous men that have beautiful wives that are found cheating with 1,2 or 10 women, because they do have the option to cheat, it makes me wonder what makes a man truly loyal. Add in all the stories lately about men who want multiple sexual/emotional relationships, to me, it’s becoming an increasingly hard world to navigate as a woman that simply wants a man to prize fidelity and commitment as much as I do. It’s all a bit confusing about where men exactly stand on fidetility and loyatly and if then even prize it like I, and some other women do.

    I like to think the best of it all and that men are loyal because they love their partners more then they have the desire to sleep with other women. I like to believe in fidelity in the traditional sense. I want that in my own relationships. I don’t think that means you are never attracted to other people. But it matters how much you focus on that and how you seek it out. When a person sees someone attractive do they flirt with them and tell themselves it’s harmless? Do they fantasize about more aggressive women hitting on them and basically taking all the choices away from them so they can guiltlessly cheat in their own mind? Or does a man have the same respect for fideility and loyatly that I do? That’s really what I seek in my own relationships. Not a man that is never attracted to other women. Not a man that would throw away what he has with me for a new warm body. But a man that prides fidelity like I do. Even if most of the time it isn’t challeneged, I know that when and if it’s ever challenged, he will be the kind of man I think he is and know he can be.

    Men do not have to be the extent of everything they feel sexually. Just as women do not have to be the extent of everything they feel emotionally. I think too often in our culture men are indirectly told that anything they feel sexually and act out sexually is simply “natural” and women should understand this. I often relate to this my own emotional make up . Sometimes I have ugly emotions. I have learned that just because I feel those things, I don’t have to act on them and they don’t have to define me.

    Ultimately, while I have some female fears about men and infidetly, I think that men are better then the world gives them credit for. And comedians like Chris Rock that say men are only as faithful as their options is doing more of a disservice to men then speaking of a hardcore truth about men. Men are who they want to be. If a man only wants to be as good as his options, that is who he will be. But if men wants to be better then that, then that’s who he will be.

  7. That Guy says:

    I wanted to second one tiny part of Anthony’s first post. Some men are not really looking and some of them may be totally clueless anyway. You could have missed opportunities because you just didn’t see them as opportunities.

    Sometimes fidelity isn’t goodness or laziness but cluelessness.

    “Wait, what? That was flirting? Come on. Really? Noo, that couldn’t be. I’m sure she just wanted a massage.”

  8. That Guy says:

    Erin also raises a good point about men with wonderful partners but who cheat anyway. There are lots of men like Tiger Woods who “cheat down,” cheat with someone less attractive instead of more attractive. (No offense to all those women, but come on….)

    • What does that say about men and the value they place on their relationships That Guy?

      • First of all, let me be frank and admit to a fair amount of tongue in cheek in this piece. I’m at least somewhat aware that the real reason I have been faithful is because it is important to me, and it’s important to my wife… and my wife is important to me. If I were unhappily married, or got the feeling my wife considered herself unhappily married, it very well could be a different story.

        But I think that most men I know who are faithful (but who are also still attracted to other women… not the ones who hear “You’re Every Woman in the World to Me” whenever they looked at their wives) stay faithful because they understand that it’s a rock that their relationship and family life is built on. Just as a person doesn’t steal or murder because they know it’s wrong AND because they know they may be punished, faithful spouses understand that there’s more than one reason not to cheat.

        But this article was just as much about me realizing that I can only see this topic from the first person point of view, because I don’t know how it is for other men. I think there’s likely something to the notion that since I do want to be faithful that I put out a vibe that keeps me out of trouble situations where resolve might be tested. It’s hard to drown if you never go near the water.

        That said, I don’t want to believe that a man is only as faithful as his options. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think it was fair to say “A man with options won’t stay faithful unless it’s what he really wants.”

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