In Sex and the City, a movie I’m still not sure I like, married couple Miranda and Steve go through a painful separation after he admits he had sex with another woman. According to Steve, he and Miranda had been through a distant period in their marriage with very little intimacy between them and “it just happened once” with someone else and “it didn’t mean anything.” He also shares these sad, plaintive statements: “Don’t know how I could do that to you.” “It just happened.” “I wasn’t thinking.”
I guess that’s exactly what someone says to the spouse they discover they truly love after straying into warmer arms for a night or two or twenty and then harboring guilt and regret. But here’s the thing. I don’t understand how something like this can “just happen.” It “just happens” only when one partner puts themselves in a situation where it can not only “just happen,” it’s very likely to happen.
I have a lot of friends who are men. Not once did I ever find myself in a compromising position with any of them. (I have no idea if any of them believe the “When Harry Met Sally” theory about men wanting a sexual relationship with just about every woman they know.) For me, I have two reasons I’ve never had an affair:
1. I’m married.
2. I have too much respect for my husband, my male friends – and their wives – to ever risk their friendship over an affair.
Many years ago, a (guy) friend of mine told me something profoundly simple: “The easiest way for a man to never, ever cheat on his wife is to never, ever be alone in a room with any woman other than his mother or his sister for any length of time.” [Needless to say, he was true to his word and he and I were never alone anywhere, anytime.] Did we meet to share a drink occasionally; or a lunch; or have a friendly phone call or even an out of town trip or two over the years? Yes; to all of those things. But don’t misunderstand this: his statement wasn’t protesting too much. I never doubted his commitment to his wife and family.
Maybe he sounds kind of extreme; maybe not. We’ve all heard stories about workday trysts in empty conference rooms or in deserted offices or parking lots, stolen moments in the meeting room, the church basement, or near the soccer field, not to mention in out-of-town hotel rooms. Sounds like a pretty good rule to me, for a married man or married woman.
But you know what line I never understand in this SATC scene between Miranda and Steve in the movie? It’s when Steve tries to comfort the distraught Miranda who is rejecting him and their marriage by saying, “It’s still me.”
Miranda answers in the only way that makes any sense: “Is it?”
I think she has exactly the right response to that odd little notion. I need an explanation of his explanation. “It’s still me?” What does that mean? What’s still him? He’s still the guy who will cheat on his wife if he feels lonely or neglected or – you’ll forgive the vernacular – horny? Or he’s still the guy who loves her and desperately wants his marriage to work but his extra partner just happened while he wasn’t thinking? Which guy is he? A lunkhead who couldn’t help himself, who doesn’t know how he could have done this or is he a loyal husband who was seduced by a temptress?
Maybe he means it’s still him, completely familiar and recognizable to his wife but for this one teeny tiny little thing he did that was so startling: cheating on her. In which case, to me anyway – he’s just a little bit different than she ever imagined him.
I’m not saying this is a deal-breaker. That depends on the couple and their own situation and many other variables I can’t begin to quantify or judge. I have friends whose marriages have endured after an affair. I have others who have ended their marriage for the same reason. Again, not my call and I can honestly say I don’t know what my reaction would be in that situation.
But I am saying I’m not sure how in the movie, Steve can be both men at once: the contrite louse who wants forgiveness and the clueless stag who found a convenient and warm bed, even for just one night, although that appears to be his contention. He confesses his indiscretion, an act he deeply regrets; he loves Miranda and wants her forgiveness. The question is: is cheating on her just part of ‘him being him?’ And she’s supposed to forgive it on that basis?
Let me go on record here with one sort of sidebar thought for any married men reading this. I can pretty much guarantee you that if your wife is out in the workplace, or involved in your children’s school activities or volunteers with the church group or has a weekly bowling night out with her girlfriends, a man has hit on her. Yes, it’s true. Read that again: your wife has in all likelihood had a guy approach her in a sexual / romantic way, flirt with her or in other ways send her signals that he was interested in her. Maybe he was even someone you know.
What’s that? She never told you? No kidding. You know why? Because the idea of having an affair was so nonsensical she couldn’t be bothered to share it. She declines (almost of the time, women do decline) and moves on with a little something she calls reality. Flattering? Maybe. Kind of intriguing? Sure. Tempting? I’m guessing at least sometimes, yes. Something she will act on? Maybe, but unlikely.
Tiger Woods and Ashley Madison.com notwithstanding, turns out that most men and most women don’t cheat on their spouses. A study by the National Opinion Research Center concluded that a mere 3% of married women and 4% of married men have cheated on their spouses. Alternatively, the “American Sexual Behavior” survey concluded that 22% of married men have cheated and 15% of women. I could go on here but you get the point. Studies are flawed and statistics are skewed. No one knows the real stats behind infidelity. But even with these wide disparities, we’re not finding a majority either way.
Look, I fully acknowledge that some marriages are loveless, distant, cold and unsatisfying to the partners for any number of reasons. I fully acknowledge that there is such a thing as “irreconcilable differences.” I know that some people enjoy the illicit nature of an affair and love the excitement surrounding new love and the romance of it all. This might be easier on everyone if we just acknowledged this: you’ll probably meet some fascinating, interesting, attractive people throughout your life – despite being a happily married adult. Even the most loyal among us have to acknowledge a fleeting “crush” that goes nowhere and then fades.
But when a marriage is broken and irreparable, staying together is pointless and debilitating to everyone in or around the marriage.
What I can’t work out is how one partner can do something hurtful, know that it’s hurtful, and then explain it with something as pathetic as “It’s still me.”
If that’s the case, then maybe you just gave your partner a really good reason to walk away. As they leave you behind, they can honestly say, “It’s still me…just without you.”