Should We Ban Cheating From Being Legal Grounds for Divorce?

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Why you should care

Because everyone should care about heartbreak.

OZY’s next TV show, Third Rail With OZY, is launching on PBS this fall! To kick things off, we’re shelving anything PC and launching debates. Nothing is off-limits, and we’ll go where most fear to tread. Each Wednesday, we’ll post a provocative question, with a focus on topics that might make it onto the show.

Our question this week: Should we ban cheating from being legal grounds for divorce? Wewant to hear from you. Email thirdrail@ozy.com with your thoughts or a personal story, and we might feature your answer next week. Eugene S. Robinson, OZY’s Editor-At-Large, weighs in below with his take.

Call it the Rashomon effect, based on the Akira Kurosawa film in which a rape, a subsequent murder and the retelling of both events are skewed depending on who’s doing the telling and what and how we think about sexual matters. And a lot of it goes back to imprinting, or rather, what happened to you first.

“I was just with Antoinette,” the guy said to me. His tone announced exactly what he meant, but I had refused to let my ears hear it as he stood there, awaiting a response. I didn’t show a measurable one, apart from a smile.

“Oh?”

“Yeah. We were just messing around.”

“Bullshit.”

And then he proceeded to share details as he watched me carefully. I laughed — less James Bond sangfroid and more to show that I appreciate a good joke as much as the next guy. Especially since the next guy in this instance was a friend (and Antoinette’s most recent ex), who had been telling me how depressed he was about losing her. He’d also been wondering who he had lost her to, and I, against my better judgment, had held my tongue. You see, karma’s a complete bitch. And I was just 15.

I wouldn’t become a sex columnist for another 22 years, a gig — starting with the award-winning Code magazine— I was qualified for owing to the preceding 22 years spent knuckle-deep in foolishness. Times when keeping my mouth shut and ears open served the job well. But one thing had become curiously clear: In line with Sly Stone’s great line “some people you just love to burn,” cheaters are going to cheat and those who get cheated on will continue to be cheated on. Sometimes the done-to become the doers, but this is rare and takes an act of will and willfulness.

When quizzed in response to a column query what “multiple” meant, she responded, “He caught me 21 times.”

And in the end, to echo Aristotle, not a single person consciously cops to doing wrong. “I was unfaithful to my husband multiple times,” said one anonymous reader by email. She was 32 and lived in a suburban community north of San Francisco. When quizzed in response to a column query what “multiple” meant, she responded, “He caught me 21 times.”

He was a Brazilian jiu jitsu enthusiast; she was having affairs with the only people tougher than him: his teammates. At a certain point, she had reasoned it was disrespectful to have sex with his friends in the house they shared, so she moved the proceedings to the garage. One day he came home early. The automatic garage-door opener spat to life as he pulled in, his eyes not yet adjusted to the dim interior. But his headlights were quick to reveal his wife and a teammate.

Her question for me, the sex columnist: “Is this relationship doomed?” My response: “Depends on how bad at math he is.”

Joking aside, while some men have embraced the part of them that conforms to being cuckolded by indulging the whole cuckold fetish, and men and women are managing the best they can via polygamy and polyamory, beyond these specific kinks, most believe infidelity is a violation of agreed-upon rules of conduct. Rules of conduct that, as recently as 2016, according to Statistic Brain, were being violated by 57 percent of men and 54 percent of women in heterosexual relationships.

“I’ve been faithful in bursts my whole life,” writes a 57-year-old Los Angeles native and creative director who’s been married for 15 years. “But I guess this also means I’ve been un faithful in bursts too.” She has no complaints about her husband and offers little by way of explanation, except to say, “This is just the way I am. At least I come home at night.”

Somewhat cold comfort for the folks on the done-to side of the equation. “It’s not what she does when she’s not here,” says Dave, a 40-something Silicon Valley executive married to a 40-something business professional. “It’s the lying, and frankly, I think that kind of stuff deforms the rest of our relationship.” Dave and his wife, who have been in and out of marriage counseling, got married a few years after college, and history and the kids have kept them together.

“Some people are just not cut out for fidelity, I guess,” he says. “Figuring this out after getting married and having kids is just bad timing.”

Or the worst kind of timing for Billy Conn. He beat his partner to death and then threw her from their apartment window in the 1960s. He drew a 20-year sentence and was released for good behavior after serving 17 years. “To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much of it now,” he says from a cafeteria near New York City’s Grand Central Station. “We were both addicted to drink, I know that. But on top of that? I just couldn’t trust her.”

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