Infidelity as The Sweetest Taboo?

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Infidelity as The Sweetest Taboo?


Infidelity is a story as old as time: the Greek god Zeus coupling with any woman who caught his fancy, the Bible story of David and Bathsheba that ended in the death of Bathsheba’s husband, Ovid’s early self-help book on male and female seduction and keeping your mistress/man happy. Emperors, queens, nobility, and common people have always engaged in amorous trysts, and so do we in today’s society.

A recent survey by Gallup proves that cheating is the last taboo. Well, one of many last taboos:
  • Americans are generally accepting of such things as birth control, divorce, embryonic stem cell research, gambling, sex between unmarried men and women, the death penalty, and having a baby outside of marriage. But they still disapprove of married men and women having an affair, cloning humans, polygamy, suicide, pornography, and teenagers having sex.

So if you are a married woman who is in a polygamous relationship while cloning babies and making pornography, most of society hates your very existence and is coming after your head. Congratulations.

I kid…somewhat.

To say, cheating is the last taboo is a stretch, especially when you review the list of things people believe are morally wrong. Cheating has never been considered a virtue. It’s been a necessity, a privilege, a luxury, but the shame, hypocrisy, guilt, and blame have lingered over those who stray or helped with the straying, moreso for the woman than the man.

The Atlantic article closes with this: “That cheating has become our most despised sin reflects not only a changed marriage ideal, but a diverse moral universe in which dishonesty is the only vice about which we can all agree.”

Honestly, lying, which was not listed as a behavior oddly, is still the last taboo for society. But it’s more complicated that just the lies from the cheater.

Lies, Lies, and Damned Lies
No one enjoys being on the receiving end of a lie. Deception erodes trust, which is fundamental to communities and relationships. Liars violate the expectations we have and the norms we hold dear. We think we know the liars, the cheaters. But we are lying to ourselves. We can’t easily tell.

Few people (exempting sociopaths) want to lie. But the pressure to conform when your heart wants other things. The dishonesty and the subterfuge, inauthenticity of cheating that makes it the last taboo. It’s when you make it and keep it a secret. It’s the lying, the being lied to. But also, it is about the lie we tell ourselves about our own relationships and the relationships of others.

Infidelity is defined as action or state of being unfaithful to a sexual partner. Depending on the context and contours of the marriage or relationship, that can mean many things.  Some people think that defiling the marital bed constitutes the sole infidelity that a relationship can never rebound from. For some, it’s when the partner is blatant in their affairs that cracks the shell of their marriage or relationship. For others, it’s the emotional cheating, of confiding your secrets into someone else who is not your spouse.

What happens inside of the boundaries of someone’s relationship is privvy to those people involved. Erving Goffman, the social psychologist who wrote The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, used the analogy of the front stage and backstage. The kind folks at OrgTheory.org interpreted that analogy as:
  • [E]very individual is an actor on a stage performing for an audience.  The front stage is where the performance takes place, using various impression management tools to articulate particular images to the audience, and the backstage, he argues, is where the protected self resides. Goffman believed that individuals build a strong barrier between the front and backstage, partly because the individual is vulnerable in the backstage but also in order to preserve the authenticity of the front stage performance.

Paul Laurence Dunbar summed it up easiest: “We wear mask that grin and lie.” A lot of the outrage about infidelity isn’t about the action; it is about the secrecy and the disrupting of the front stage identity that one person or two people in the relationship have worked hard to achieve.

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June 5: Tortoise or Hare? Marathoner or Sprinter?

Yesterday, I went rogue and forgot to post. Mea culpa to the one person who reads my blog.

Gretchen Rubin again posed a question that riled up my senses: Are you a tortoise or a hare at work?

I’m a mix of both. I can be a go-getter, yet I can take my time to do a project.

That’s at work.

In my personal life, I’m more of a procrastinator. Neither tortoise or hare, I’m more like the sloth, and that has to change.

One way this is changing is by giving myself a schedule to write, to play, and to do.

I have come to realize that forcing myself to write and post each day is a good thing. I like putting words down on the page and seeing the cogent result of my activity as soon as I press publish (unlike academic publishing, where your article can languish in the bowels of a reviewer’s laptop or to-be-read pile).

However, with those great feelings, come the creeping feelings and doubts. I have nothing to say. I have no one who is reading. I can’t do this. It’s all bunk, but those doubts bubble to the surface. And I avoid the doubts by not writing, not doing, not blogging, not thinking. I procrastinate until I feel the urge, until I am inspired.

Which are all bullshit ways for a writer to live and to create.

So, I am in a place where I am getting unstuck. I am coming out of my sprinter phase to becoming a marathoner. I am a not a tortoise or a hare; I’m just Intelligentsia Brown, trying to create at my own pace and on my own terms, one day at a time.

June 2: Dream Tourist Destination

What’s your dream tourist destination — either a place you’ve been and loved, or a place you’d love to visit? What about it speaks to you?


New Orleans speaks to me, and she beckons. The last time I visited there, I arranged to be on a panel. That was the only way I could get my registration and flight covered. My academic ruse worked, and I was able to go on my university’s nickel (at least for the flight). I spent a total of two hours at the conference, networking and presenting, and the rest of the time I spent touring the city.

As I walked through the Garden District, I realized that in my next life career I want to be a tour guide blending history, tall tales, architecture and current knowledge as I walk across the streets.

I am also in love with Savannah. All that I wrote about New Orleans is true of that city.

I cannot wait to visit Key West and Charleston. I think I will have the same fascinations with those cities.