Morality does not only exist within the boundaries of marriage. A man’s word is a man’s word no matter where he gives it. Yet, according to the press and our societal expectations, when an affair is revealed, the only vow that counts is the vow a man made to his wife. The many promises made to the Other Woman are thrown in the trash.
I remember vividly my outraged reaction when Henry Hyde called his five-year affair with a woman while he (and she) was married to someone else a “youthful indiscretion.” He was in his 40s at the time. According to the woman’s husband, Hyde had told the Other Woman he loved her, had bought her things, taken her places, kept in touch with her, and shown up for their meetings for these five years, yet Hyde dismissed her as a triviality. At the time, everyone seemed satisfied that Hyde had done the right thing. The survival of the marriage was all that mattered; betrayal of another kind of commitment did not matter.
While I was registered on online dating sites, I corresponded with dozens of married men who had nobody to talk to about what they were enduring in their marriages. They were generally respectful of their wives, but opened up to me either over coffee or by email about their struggles to balance their own well being with commitment to their wives. They were volcanoes ready to explode, and the danger of involvement with them was so obvious that I didn’t find it difficult to retain my emotional distance from them, but if their wives had found out that their husbands were sharing intimate knowledge with another woman, they would have been distraught. The Other Woman is a powder keg charged with explosive knowledge. A real man would not dismiss and try to bury that knowledge, he would confront it and neutralize it.
Let’s say you’re the President of the United States, the most closely protected person on the planet. You invite a young woman into your chamber, making all the necessary arrangements for privacy, and dally with her not once but several times. You’re in your 50s, a veteran of many romantic wars, who is also struggling to survive threatening, constant personal and public attacks, so maybe these moments are a welcome and pleasurable escape. She’s no virgin herself. Maybe a tendency to naughtiness is something you have in common.
When your trysts are uncovered, she, Monica Lewinsky, becomes a crazy harridan, a “mistake,” a deceiver.
Hillary sucked up all the oxygen, leaving Monica on the floor. Bill Clinton drew on the Christian virtues of repentance and forgiveness. Maybe he learned his lesson, finally. Bully for him.
This moral playbook is not sound. Morality exists both within and without marriage. It is not for others to know either what drove Bill Clinton to seek out Monica Lewinsky, nor the decisions his family made to heal the hurt resulting from the affair. In a sound moral world, we should recognize his double betrayal, of both his wife and Monica Lewinsky. She was his port in the storm, yet she was not breaking vows to anyone. It’s hard to see what she should apologize for, except maybe the damage she caused to herself through her naiveté.
It would be nice if Bill Clinton apologized to Monica Lewinsky publicly for his part in her suffering.
The world has moved on a bit from those nasty days. Though I only know what I read in the papers, it appears that Jesse Jackson and John Edwards have publicly assumed responsibility for their former mistresses’ well being and for the well being of the children that resulted from their affairs. This feels more just and compassionate. When it comes to human relationships, we’re better off, and more honest, expecting grey.