Adapted from a recent online discussion.
The 'other' man or woman owes it to self to do the right thing
In Monday's column, I said "D.C.'s" hide-it-from-the-wife friendship with a married man didn't pass the sniff test; an anonymous reader didn't think that went far enough, and cried "emotional affair."
D.C. again: Really?! So if they divorce it's my fault??? I'm just living my life, minding my own business. I don't go out of my way to contact him. Frankly, I don't really care.
It's his responsibility to tell his wife — I don't have any control over this. If he is keeping friendships from his wife, again, how's it my business, and why is it my place to make sure he does the right thing? Shouldn't he be the one setting boundaries, as he's the one who's married?
I think the anonymous reader's judgment is misdirected. For some reason, I always see a lot of animosity directed at the "other" woman when a man cheats. When in reality, that should all be channeled to the person who broke their wedding vows.
Carolyn: Don't get so defensive that you forget why you wrote in with this question in the first place. You wanted to determine your moral culpability, and you're getting your answer.
The vow-breaker should take most of the blame, but hardly all. You get some, too. "How's it my business, and why is it my place to make sure he does the right thing? Shouldn't he be the one setting boundaries, as he's the one who's married?" You're refusing to accept responsibility, when there's a good reason to: karma (a.k.a., decency). Don't do anything you wouldn't want some guy, and some ex of his, doing to you someday.
Or, if you prefer something more straightforward: It's not your place to make him do the right thing, but it's your job to do the right thing yourself.
People are far from perfect, obviously, and routinely make mistakes. But the remedy for mistakes is to make your very next choice in life a good one — and the next choice after that, then the next one, and so on. You can choose to stop yourself from doing something you know will come at someone else's expense — especially since you "don't really care."
So next time you get an e-mail from this guy, hit reply, and type: "You know, I don't like being part of a secret you keep from your wife. I'd like more from my life, so I'm out." Maybe you'll sleep a bit better at night, or not feel like a liar when you see this guy with his wife socially.
I do agree there's disproportionate anger for the "others" — but that makes so much sense, if you think about it. Victims often maintain some kind of relationship with the people who cheat on them, whether they stay together and try to save the relationship, or split but share custody of children, or just try to remain semicordial to keep the whole relationship from feeling like a complete and utter loss.
That means the full weight of the anger is rarely brought to bear on the cheater — leaving a lot of spillover for the "other." The "other" also doesn't have to be a day-to-day mate, and exploits that advantage. The anger comes with the role, and that's the role you chose.