I finally got around to watching The Last Kiss this weekend. There is a particularly stunning scene (I won't say too much in case you haven't seen it) with Zach Braff and Tom Wilkinson, whose character has been married for 30 years. Michael (Zach Braff) says something like, "you can't say you've never strayed." And Stephen (Tom Wilkinson) is quiet for a long moment, then he says: "What you feel only matters to you. It's what you do to the people you love. That's what matters. That's the only thing that counts. "
It reminded me that I once had a boyfriend who announced—in a bar, at a table packed with friends and acquaintances—that he didn’t see anything wrong with cheating because, as a particularly psychologically advanced individual, he could separate lust from love. Granted, he hadn’t cheated on me (trust me, a woman knows), and he said as much, but his declaration made my blood run cold.
My father was a cheater. He cheated on my mother openly and often, with younger women, with any woman who would have him, until he finally left my mother for one of them. My grandfather was also a cheater. My grandmother caught him with her best friend when my mother was only three years old and divorced him soon thereafter. He later married the best friend. My boyfriend knew all of this, including my feelings of contempt, yet he still thought it was acceptable to declare himself a potential cheater.
The conversation had turned to the topic of cheating because one of my friends said she wouldn’t divorce her husband if he cheated on her. I, being in my early 20s and naïve (not to mention earnest, somewhat optimistic, and emotionally immature), suggested that she’d just given him license to screw around.
“What would you do,” my boyfriend asked, “if I cheated on you?” Without skipping a beat, I said “I’d sleep with your friends and make sure you found out about it” (except I didn’t say “sleep with”—and I might have added something about videotaping it for him).
“But lusting after someone else isn’t the end of the world,” he said.
“No, it isn’t. But acting on it is.” How do I know? Because I've been a cheater more often than I've been cheated on. And my actions spoke volumes.