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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Column: The scarlet letter

There are times when socially conservative Americans and I part ways. But one issue that we both see as a terrible problem in our country is infidelity.

A friend of my wife’s recently found out that her husband wants a divorce. They had been growing apart for years, and unknown to her, he had been cheating on her for quite some time.

While it is galling in principle that he be the one to demand a divorce from her, the situation is really emblematic of an immoral turn our society has taken in recent decades.

Once upon a time, cheating on your significant other would create an uproar with substantial social problems for you. Now there are far too many indicators that we’ve grown soft on the unfaithful among us.

Plenty of songs take the side of the offended partner (usually a woman) who triumphantly/angrily rebukes the cheater. But some other chart-toppers promote infidelity without a hint of controversy.

“Hotel Room Service” by rapper Pitbull requires girls in the chorus to “forget about your boyfriend” before they meet the singer at the hotel room (the song peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100). Enrique Iglesias explains in “I Like It” (topping out at No. 4 on the Hot 100) that “My girlfriend is out of town/And I’m all alone/Your boyfriend is on vacation/And he doesn’t have to know.”

Even country music isn’t immune. In Sugarland’s beautifully-sung “Stay” (No. 32) the speaker is a mistress begging her lover to leave his wife for her. Oddly enough, the ending of the song is seemingly supposed to elicit sympathy for the woman, as she is “up off her knees” and tells him to stay in his wife’s bed instead.

What a novel concept. Too bad she didn’t think of that before she had sex with a sleazy married man.

An infamous website which does not deserve the meager publicity I have to offer, advertises itself as a hookup network for married people. Their motto? “Life is short. Have an affair.”          

“The World’s Premier Discreet Dating Service with over 9,315,000 anonymous members,” the site brags as you first enter its domain, announcing a depressing number if I ever saw one.

In the FAQ section, those in charge attempt to defend themselves against the accusation that they promote cheating.

“No, [the site] does not encourage anyone to stray,” they write. “In fact, if you are having difficulty with your relationship, you should seek counseling. However, if you still feel that you will seek a person other than your partner to fill your unmet needs, then we truly believe that our service is the best place to start.”

 Don’t do it, they say, but if you feel like it just sign up and we’ll have you breaking the eternal bonds of marriage in no time!

Bull. If this website did not “encourage anyone to stray,” it would not exist. The site makes money precisely because it makes it easier for cheating to occur. As soon as it doesn’t provide a service in the free market, it’s bankrupt (financially, after already being morally so).

Too many of the young have bought into this warped world-view. My wife once reported with dismay that her freshmen girls’ basketball team scoffed at the idea of a sexually loyal man and laughed that cheating is just how boys work. Putting aside 14-year-old girls having experience with sexual fidelity or infidelity, it is truly disheartening to see such low standards among supposedly idealistic youth.

Polls on the subject of cheating vary and precise numbers are hard to come by, but with married people, for example, probably somewhere between a quarter and a third have engaged in a sexual act with someone other than their spouse.

 Everybody has been touched by the consequences of this moral slouch. More than a few of my own friends have been cheated on, even at our young age, and not one of them survived without deep wounds. The damage to our relationships and well being is literally incalculable. But we can do so much better.

To the cheater who might be reading, I hope you feel as guilty every day as you should. If the relationship is that bad, then either repair it or get out. A detour to some other bed is simply disgusting.

To the rest of us, I say we will all live in a better society when we once again shun those who cheat in committed relationships, or worse, in marriages. Those who facilitate wandering procreative acts or are the “mistress” – male or female – should be equally ostracized.

It’s time we started treating cheaters like they’ve actually broken a rule.


If ROB OLSON’s wife is curious why an infidelity networking website is in his search history, she can reach him at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.


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