When is it okay for me to have an affair?

When is it okay for me to have an affair?

~ Guest Blog Post ~

Hot potato, anyone?

Writing about infidelity is risky, particularly with a scintillating title like this one. But writers are keen observers of human behavior, and we’re all risk-takers. That’s why, when Alexandra offered me an opportunity to select from a list of topics, I jumped at the most controversial one. (“Go big or go home” is one of my favorite quotes.)

Before I answer, I have a few questions for you. Why do you suppose readers (in general) don’t mind graphic violence, explicit sex, orgies, murders and other mayhem, often including themes of betrayal and deception – but adamantly refuse to read or write about a hero or heroine who cheats? Have you noticed how often authors, in promoting their books on social media, adamantly declare, “No cheating!”? I have, and it fascinates me.

Here are MY answers. First, a story about cheating plays to our deepest fear: betrayal. What if we’re not ‘good enough’ to keep the one we love? We don’t mind that our fictional heroes or heroines are broken, or harbor a secret that haunts their past and threatens their future.  But they can’t be cheaters; that single character flaw renders them unredeemable. And books that might appear to glorify infidelity won’t sell, because readers reject the premise.

Ironically, affairs happen every minute, every day.  Marriages fall apart; people kill themselves — or each other – in ‘crimes of passion’.  As a society, we abhor adultery, but we do it anyway. You know it’s true. Google ‘infidelity;’ the proof is in the search results. We are a pluralistic, hypocritical society in many respects. Human attitudes and behaviors about infidelity are one of many perfect examples of our duplicitous nature.

Some of you have cheated on a partner. Statistically, it’s a fact. Anthropologically, it’s a given.  If you have, you have a powerful story to tell — but nobody wants to hear it. Even if you haven’t been unfaithful – in person, online, or simply in an unrealized fantasy – you probably know someone who has. A friend, a parent, a coworker. You wonder if it could happen to you, and what you might do if it did.

I’ve seen men and women leave their partners and children for someone they’ve never met, except in intimate emotional and sexual exchanges online. I’ve seen people lose their careers and/or or their marriages overnight.  I’ve known some who’ve ended up depressed and institutionalized after a suicide attempt over a broken (or exposed) affair. The media loves such stories. We feel righteous when evangelists, politicians and celebrities fall from grace — even when we’re guilty of the same. We roll our eyes and cluck in disapproval. We gossip. We point fingers. But we don’t talk about it, except in the abstract. And we pray it doesn’t happen to us.

So … the big question. When is it okay for ME to have an affair? You already know the answer. It’s never okay. If you are, or have been, in an affair — virtual or otherwise – you know it’s not okay. You may have given yourself permission, for any number of reasons that make sense at the time. It eases your guilt, at least temporarily. But despite what you say to yourself in the heat of moment, you know it’s the worst form of betrayal, and it’s ultimately self-destructive.

I am no authority – moral or spiritual – on the subject. I’m just another flawed human, trying to make sense of it all. And honestly, I’m not judgmental. I’ve just seen the aftermath of affairs once too often; witnessed one too many wonderful, well-intentioned people whose lives were irrevocably changed by one decision. Acknowledging that humans are complex, needy, emotional, impetuous beings, affairs of the heart are a painful reality that can’t simply be swept under the rug.

With tongue firmly in cheek, I’ve come up with a list of when might be okay to give in. Simply stated, it’s when you are willing to lose everything for the sake of a relationship. Ask yourself:

  1. Are you willing to lie, reflexively, to yourself, your partner, your children, your friends, and everyone else in your life — for the rest of your life?
  2. Are you willing to accept a deep sense of guilt? To sacrifice your dignity and self-worth? It’s impossible to live a lie without giving up a big piece of yourself in the process. (Unless you always dreamed of being a liar and a cheat, in which case, you’re covered.)
  3. Are you willing to face the grief, and the possible consequences, if and when the relationship ends?
  4. If you’re religious, are you willing to sacrifice your eternal soul (see the Ten Commandments #7)?
  5. Are you willing to expose your partner, and your children, to the humiliation that inevitably follows when and if the truth comes out?
  6. Are you willing to fight a custody battle, a nasty divorce, or a lifetime of suspicion when you confess, are found out, or decide to turn your affair into a commitment?
  7. Are you okay with not being ‘present’ for your partner and/or your children? You can’t be fully present if part of you – a big part of you – is sneaking away to spend time with someone else. If your entire heart isn’t yours to give, they’ll sense it. The ones who know you best might not act on it, but they will feel the difference.

And finally…

  1. Are you NOT willing to accept that the urge to find the attention you crave – online or elsewhere – is a symptom, not a solution?

Studies show that most unfaithful persons truly love their partner, or at least they believe they do. They don’t want to hurt anyone, or themselves. They’re truly shocked to find themselves in an affair.  We often hear, “follow your heart,” or, “you can’t tell your heart what to feel” when we’re struggling with a relationship decision. In considering an affair, there is always a choice: stay faithful to your partner, figure out what’s wrong and try to fix it; or proceed, and let the chips fall where they may. But don’t waste time asking yourself if it’s okay. You already know the answer.

Paula Radell

Unapologetic romantic and bookaholic – with too many favorite authors and genres to list. Reviewer, Editor, Book Blogger and a former publicist for indie authors.

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