Politics & Policy

A Scandalous Affair

Cheating ourselves out of marriage.

EDITOR’S NOTEThis column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello at cpuello@unitedmedia.com.

Reality-show star Jon Gosselin did it. Country singer Shania Twain, whose “One” has become a wedding standard, wound up a victim of it. An endless parade of politicians have been caught doing it. And those are just the ones we know about.

Adultery does happen. It always has and it always will. But I think we may have crossed a threshold.

While watching the president of the United States declare that we can legislate away hardship during his health-care address to a joint session of Congress, I was lured away from my hyper-blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking analysis by a commercial for AshleyMadison.com.

To the soundtrack of a snoring woman in bed with a man, the announcer says: “Most of us can recover from a one-night stand with the wrong woman.”

The narrator continues: “But not when it’s every night. For the rest of our lives.”

The husband gets out of bed and heads, presumably, to the computer. We see a cartoonish wedding picture. We are made aware of what this restless spouse must be craving: an online-dating site for those who are married but itching for something carnally more, with someone else.

“Life is short. Have an affair” goes the motto for this no-frills facilitator. There’s no need for confession or guilt. It’s all straightforward and out in the open, at least to those in the know. (Maybe not to the parties who didn’t realize “in sickness and in health” does not cover sleep disorders.)

And that’s it: enticement, information, and get your credit card ready.

The ad’s commercial presence during the presidential-address post-game commentary on MSNBC was jarring. Have round-the-clock Viagra, Cialis, and KY ads made audiences of the talking-heads shows immune to noticing? Maybe they’re a crowd that watches politics as sport (Hardball!) and sex is a bit of sport too — a biologically gratifying release without a greater context or purpose?

And in this commercial cheating world, it’s not just the man who’s pining away. It’s equality, baby. Another ad on the same night featured an exaggerated boorish bore of a man and his wife in a restaurant on their anniversary. He takes a phone call. She is pleased to make eye contact with a leering rake at the bar. “When divorce isn’t an option” is how Ashley Madison seeks to make this sale.

In both scenarios, missing was any sense of shame.

I asked similar questions while reading the weddings section of the New York Times over Labor Day weekend. This week’s spotlight on a couple’s road to wedded bliss was not an obvious one to celebrate: “There was a moment of connection, but it was so intense that we couldn’t be friends,” the featured bride explained. She and the man she just married met on Broadway, playing the lovers Mimì and Rodolfo in La Bohème. She was married to another man, but this did not prove to be a connection breaker. They would date. They would spend two weeks together in France. Upon her return from the Continent, she left her husband for her newfound love. The “little church girl” recalls: “From the moment our eyes met through those two weeks of being in Paris and the pain of going through a divorce, I knew that I loved him.”

I know nothing about this couple other than what the Times told us. I wish them and all involved well. But what about us? What does it say about us when the preeminent Sunday weddings announcer in the United States chooses to feature such a story?

And it’s not just the New York Times that’s moved by adulterous connections. Just days after the wedding feature, a story on ABCnews.com began with: “Don’t let your spouse see this story.”  It was titled: “Shh! The Top 5 Hotels for Having an Affair,” and explained: “These are hotels with thick walls, a discreet staff, a bit of romance and maybe even a heart-shaped Jacuzzi.”

In her book The Abolition of Marriage, Maggie Gallagher, one of the most committed marriage-protection activists in the country, wrote: “Marriage, like a corporation or private property, is an institution that must be supported by law and culture if it is to exist at all. . . . To have the choice as individuals to marry we must first choose as a society to create marriage.”

I attended a wedding at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that same Labor Day weekend, the run-up to which was a more traditional kind of single boy meets single girl that didn’t make any features sections. During the sermon, the rector implored those in attendance to be a support for the couple, because they will have hardship ahead, as all couples do. (You actually can’t legislate it away.) Marriage requires work and sacrifice. Family and friends are vital supports; in fact, they can often help make or break a marriage.

But what about the culture? Will the culture make a positive contribution to the institution of marriage? Or will we forever hold our peace in the face of blatant offenses to all that we should hold dear?

There will be rude cell habits and snoring — or something equally or even more annoying. There will be temptations, and sometimes a relationship won’t be sustainable. But many times it will be — and if those vows mean something, you try — but couples need help. And it’s in our interest to encourage the good and shun the bad.  Marriage, born and nurtured by true love and responsibility, can be the source of joy, life, and a future generation that understands and honors marriage. Human life can be a messy thing. Which is all the more reason to commit to marriage in our words and in our deeds. We need to live that commitment, which includes, at the very least, not encouraging blatant violations of it — for all our sakes, ’til death do us part. 

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor of National Review Online. 

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