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Few chauvinistic words get me as riled up as this one.

Funny how a patriarchal society is designed to give men power, yet in matters of marital fidelity it's the woman who has all the power to wreck a home.

Many years ago I met and went out with a man named Kevin. On our first date he confessed that he was married but he wanted to continue to see me. His circumstances were unusual, he said, very complicated. He could not at this time leave his wife but he was terribly lonely and unhappy. He and his wife had slept in separate bedrooms for years. He could see I wasn't warming up to his sad tale, so he changed tactics slightly. Essentially, he and his wife were separated but living under the same roof. Separate lives. They were both free to date.

Yeah. You would not believe how many men I have met with "unusual circumstances" that keep them in their lonely, unhappy marriages. Amazing to me that I have never personally seen a home or family in which the husband and wife sleep in separate bedrooms, yet the impression I get from married men in general is that this separate bedroom arrangement is all the rage. Everybody's doing it. Come on. And separated but living under the same roof is not separated. It's together. Whenever I hear the old "we're both free to date" line, I ask him to pick up his cell phone right now and call his wife. Let her tell me they're both free to date, then I might believe it. Heck, even if it's true, it sounds like nothing but a big bowl of crazy drama that's better to be avoided. "Both free to date" doesn't mean "both happy about it." I never had a man answer my challenge to actually phone his wife to confirm his permission to date. Weasels.

Anyway, back then, with Kevin, I was not yet quite so contemptuous of cheating dogs. I saw through his stupid line, but he was good looking and rich, and I thought I might like to date him in spite of his marital status.

I talked it over with my best friend. She was horrified that I would even consider it. Her views were a perfect mirror of what our patriarchal society has told us about the cheating man and the other woman.

The other woman is a "homewrecker." A wicked seductress with no respect for a man's sacred home and family. Excuse me, but if he doesn't respect his sacred home and family, why should I? When a married woman cheats, the other man is not a homewrecker. In that case, it's again the woman's fault for destroying the family with her adultery. Why do we insist that every woman pay an allegiance of respect not only to her own home and family but to every other home and family out there in the world, but we don't demand that husbands pay respect even to their own?

My friend and I have had the argument many times over the years. Sometimes not even over a married man but one who has a girlfriend. It always goes something like this:

"Don't you feel any loyalty toward her as a woman?"

I don't even know her. He is the one who owes her loyalty if he has promised her that (and I assume he has). When you start defining responsibilities of loyalty toward people I don't know, where do you draw the line? What if I date a man whose ex-wife has not let him go and still feels that they are married? Do I owe her loyalty as a woman? Or what if a man has dated a woman a few times and she considers herself his girlfriend? Do I owe her loyalty? No, because the loyalty arises from the relationship between him and her, whatever those terms may be. It's ridiculous for me to be trying to figure out the parameters of their relationship so that I can determine whether I'm being disloyal to her when he chooses to be with me. Their relationship has nothing to do with me.

If I'm married, I expect loyalty from my husband. If I have that, then I don't need loyalty from other women who might want to be with him because he will be faithful to me. If I don't have his loyalty then it doesn't matter if other women don't respect me as his wife because I'm married to a disloyal man, which is a problem. I do not rely on the loyalty and good character of other women to keep my man from cheating on me. He's either loyal or not, and that's what determines whether I should be with him. Other women have nothing to do with it. They do not make him loyal or disloyal, that's only his choice.

"But he belongs to her. You're taking something that isn't yours. You wouldn't appreciate someone messing with your man."

Can you see the pattern of thinking here? It's all about what the other woman is doing. She's messing with my man. She's irrelevant. It doesn't matter what she does. The relevant behavior is his.

People aren't possessions; they don't belong to one another. He "belongs to" whomever he chooses to give himself to. In a relationship, if he promised and committed himself to give himself only to her and never to anyone else, that is a promise, not a contract of ownership. He's still a person with the free will choice to honor that promise or not. If he doesn't, then he has betrayed her. By being with him, I make no betrayal. I have made no promise to anybody. Besides, it should be his betrayal she should be concerned about instead of feeling betrayed by me, some stranger she doesn't even know.

The only case in which I'd be the one betraying her is if she and I were friends or sisters or something. Then the parameters of our relationship, hers and mine, would involve an implied promise that I would never do something that I know would hurt her.

"Well, it's just bad karma."

She had me there. She knew my beliefs on karma. I tried to argue it in various ways over the years but there's really no way out of it. To be involved with a married man or even a man cheating on his girlfriend is an ugly, dishonorable energy. I should never invite that into my life. I may not owe respect and allegiance to all the wives in the world who are strangers to me (and do not owe me anything either), but I do owe respect to myself and must be careful about the kind of energy my choices bring to my life.

So I didn't provide Kevin with relief from his lonely "unusual circumstances," nor any of the other cheating dogs I was tempted by over the years. I have no doubt that these men cheated anyway, despite my rejection, so my noble choice did not save or protect their sacred home and family. Which brings me back to the original point of this piece: "homewrecker." If those homes were wrecked, they were wrecked by the choices of the adult members of those households (most likely his), not by the choices or actions of the "other woman." Let's give contempt where contempt is due.


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Tess's Room

A lovely tempest, not easily understood, but worth the effort. Sort of like dark bitter chocolate surrounding the sweetest cherry...

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