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Cheating is a family affair

Marital infidelity is in the news, with public figures owning up to indiscretions, and online, with sites helping married individuals find someone with which to have an affair. Can we teach society that cheating never affects only one person?

(AP Photo/Danny Moloshok, File)
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, third right, sits with V. Stiviano, left, as they watch the Clippers play the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles in 2010. NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced April 29, 2014, that he is banning the owner for life from the Clippers organization over racist comments in recording.

“Life is short. Have an affair,” is the motto of the Ashley Madison website, designed to pair married people for extra-marital affairs. That motto also seems to be part of a growing public acceptance of a practice affecting families.

While the Ashley Madison site tells us “Life is short,” the memories of children – whose lives have been disrupted by family unrest like an affair or divorce – are longlasting.

The recent influx of cheaters in the news – L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling as one example, Monica Lewisky writing about her affair with Bill Clinton for Vanity Fair as another – and memories of my own father’s marital indiscretions, make me wonder why some people think a site like this is a good idea.

I’ve had the song “The Lusty Month of May” the from Lerner & Loewe's musical, “Camelot” stuck in my head since the other day.

In the song, the character of Queen Guinevere blithely sings, “Tra la, it's May, the lusty month of May. That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray.”

The Queen, a new bride, adds, “Those dreary vows that everyone takes, everyone breaks. Everyone makes divine mistakes, the lusty month of May!”

It’s a great tune. So great, in fact, that I began singing it within earshot of my son Quin, age 10, who also began singing it.

“So what’s lusty mean,” he asks me, after dancing around the room singing the song which he’d looked-up on YouTube.

He adds, “I love this song because it’s all about it being ok to make mistakes.”  

In my mind, I saw an imagined “Mother of the Year” award with my name on it spontaneously combusting.

Memo to me: Not only do parents need to think before they speak in front of kids, but before they sing as well.

I had to explain to Quin what the song was about and why it really wasn’t a good thing, because in the end Queen Guinevere cheats on her king husband with Sir Lancelot, which leads to war, the death of King Arthur and destruction of the legendary symbol of honor and chivalry, the Round Table.

“OK. The May rule was stupid,” Quin says, matter-o-factly. “Good thing we don’t have that problem anymore.”

This is the first time I have ever had a discussion about cheating with Quin that didn’t involve sports or school, but as something that could happen in a relationship.

Quin is still at the age where relationships with girls seem attractive in theory, but in reality he freaks out about just saying  "hello" to one.

I didn’t tell him how age-old and tenacious the issue of infidelity is, nor how it affects families. That’s a story for another day when he’s older.

However, cheating is a hot button issue for me.

My three older sons know that my parents divorced because my dad, an author, cheated on mom with his book illustrator whom he often brought to our home.

I was about 7 when they broke up, and had no idea why mom was crying and dad kept telling her to “grow-up” and accept it. I grew up not knowing what was happening between my parents.

When I was old enough to understand, it destroyed an already weak relationship with my father.

I felt complicit in his affair by having his mistress around so often that I came to like her and accept gifts from the woman that he eventually left my mom to marry.

When I was old enough to grasp what had been going on all those years, I felt like an idiot because everyone knew my dad had a mistress and my mom stayed faithful to only him.

While my father was being completely honest about his cheating, I was simply too young to process what was happening to my family.

Because I had grown to like and seemingly accept my dad’s mistress without actually understanding the moral and marital complexity it drove a wedge between my mom and me.

Unfortunately, my husband of 25 years, a newspaper editor, chose to bring up the stories about Donald Sterling and the Ashley Madison site as a conversation starter on our weekly date night last night. He said the site was the subject of much mirth at his office.

While he “would never” use such a site, he said he doesn’t have an issue with people who do. The conversation rapidly devolved into a stony silence that is still in effect 12 hours later.

Infidelity is nothing to be causal about and it shouldn’t be fodder for water cooler laughs.

Recently, I wrote about an incident in baseball in which Yankees Pitcher Michael Pineda was caught cheating more than once by using pine tar on the ball in order to gain an unfair gripping advantage.  

As a result, I was slammed on Twitter by baseball fans condoning cheating because they claimed everybody does it. I think that between the proliferation of cheating in sports, and sites that encourage cheating on spouses, we are setting up people to become desensitized to dishonesty.

The casual acceptance of excuses for cheaters should really resonate with any parent who has ever heard a child give the very lame excuse for wrongdoing as, “Everybody was doing it.”

It seems that it is much easier to rationalize actions we know have negative effects when they benefit us personally.

To paraphrase businessman and motivational speaker Scott Alexander, doing good is hard and doing evil is easy. Stay away from easy.

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