Catherine Durkin Robinson: Life is short, try on some tolerance

It’s been all over the news. Hackers went after the notorious “Life is short. Have an affair.” website, which enables married or otherwise attached men and women to pursue relationships outside their union. Hackers are exposing Ashley Madison customers and emails, not for money but for “moral” reasons. They believed the idea behind the site was wrong and wanted to expose “cheaters.”

Forget about the morality of outing people who are doing something that meets your disapproval. People who indiscriminately ruin other’s lives, including putting them at risk, don’t have a moral leg to stand on. This will surely end in violence, separation, ruin, and scandal for many people who don’t deserve it.

It doesn’t have to.

Rather than judge others or consult divorce attorneys, why not use this opportunity for a frank and honest discussion about the limits of monogamy and traditional marriage?

Sitting down and talking with our spouses about infidelity and unrealistic vows can be uncomfortable. Most people prefer to watch television and engage in activities that require less thought, not more. That’s why they seek out other partners in private and hope to hell no one ever finds out in the first place.

But let’s get uncomfortable for a few minutes, and see what kind of breakthroughs come from honesty, compassion, and true understanding. If we’re shacked up with someone for the next few decades, it sure would be cool to understand him or her.

First let’s separate fact from fiction and emotions from logic.

Diminishing values are not to blame. Humans have been trying to harness their passions for centuries, with little or no success.

It was once common for men, and only men, to take several wives, girlfriends, mistresses, and lovers. This is nothing new.

Recent studies dismantle the idea that women have a weaker sex drive or are less interested in sex.

Philanderers are not bad people. History shows us hundreds of examples of people who, despite personal weaknesses, went on to champion causes and laws that have made our country and world a much better place. Evidence suggests the very traits we value in leaders, a certain predilection for risk and taking chances, are exactly what leads them to seek comfort in someone other than their spouses.

Many people, married and single, enjoy connecting with others on a platonic level and relish the idea of connecting on a physical one. Hearts are big enough to love more than one person at a time. So, let’s stop feigning shock, once again, despite example after example, year after year, over the idea that people have little control over their sexual or romantic appetites.

Those of us who discuss this issue are often shamed for lack of values, or called names like “doormat” or “whore” or worse, as if we aren’t all living in the same world with the same tabloid stories every week. There’s this desire by the public, to hold on to generalizations that obviously do not apply to the vast majority of people who subscribe to them. The anger with and at people who have interests outside their marriage, yet continue being — you know — married, also reflects a desperation and unwillingness to accept certain truths about human relationships.

Marriage is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. This is something many know, on an intellectual level, but few want to acknowledge or talk about. Marriage is being redefined all the time, most recently to include gays and lesbians. This is a good thing. Marriage has also evolved since the days where women were considered property, yet both men and women still hold tight to the idea that we own our spouses.

It should be obvious to anyone, no matter how we wish it so, we actually own no one. Sometimes, not even ourselves.

Examine the harm in forcing a traditional formula on people who require something different, and the harm that has occurred in families across the country.

Making unrealistic demands, and for some that includes lifelong monogamy, is not working. Whether you look into sociological studies, or your own family, you’ll find evidence to suggest that many people lose the romantic desire they once felt for their partner and end up looking elsewhere for that elusive thrill. Sometimes, they find it.

Many people don’t even realize they’re not cut out for a traditional marriage until long after they’ve said their vows. They bought into a fantasy, or got married too young, before they really had a chance to think things through.

And very often, they don’t have the kind of relationship where these kinds of issues can be discussed, much less explored and acted upon. So desire becomes a shameful secret.

If they act on it? Even more shameful and secret.

As a society, we’re left with multiple marriages, multiple divorces, and children as the collateral damage, trying to survive in the aftermath of a broken and miserable family.

It would be a whole lot better for those children, and all of us, if we stopped embracing such nonsense. Instead of insisting on therapy and suppressed desires, we re-evaluate our expectations and have an honest discussion about the limits of traditional marriage. This idea that one formula should apply to everyone doesn’t work when we’re talking about religions and countless other social constructs: Why would it apply to marriages?

A reassessment of lifelong partnerships, which might include more reasonable vows and healthier, long-lasting unions, benefits all of us. It could create an environment where more people stay together, happily, and devote themselves to raising healthy children.

It’s wrong to publicly shame people who are “caught” philandering – on Ashley Madison’s website or any other venue. Instead, let’s embrace the opportunity to shine some honesty into areas of our lives that previously held darkness and deceit. Let’s begin that conversation.

And we don’t have to get hacked to do it.

Catherine Durkin Robinson co-parents twin sons, organizes families for advocacy purposes, writes syndicated columns, mentors kids, runs a few races, and flirts shamelessly all while happily married.  Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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