Would I Tolerate An Internet Affair?

Posted on June 16, 2011 by

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couple fighting

"I didn't like those pictures you sent on Twitter."

For the record, I’d like to say that if my husband had an affair, I’d kill him.

I’m not sure I’d be able to forgive him. I’m not sure I’d be able to have sex with him again. (And this is coming from a woman who enjoys having sex with her husband.) But more, I’m not sure I’d trust him. And since I’ve been through a divorce before, I know that a marriage can do without a lot of things, but it cannot do without trust.

Right from the get go, I told Andy that if he was going to have an affair, please refrain from telling me. That’s right. I said, “Unless you’ve fallen in love with someone else, I don’t want to know.”

“I just want to know one thing,” he said. “Who are all these women that are after me? Who are all these ladies that I’m having affairs with?”

Okay, so there’s that.

I have been cheated on—twice. The first experience was at 20. My boyfriend was still in love with his ex-girlfriend and endlessly talked about her through our entire relationship. For a while I thought she was the third wheel, until I learned through multiple witnesses that he had been making out with her all over town and realized, Oh shit, I’m the third wheel. Took a few years to recover from that one.

The second experience was like a summer thunderstorm, just out of the blue. No looming whatsoever. My live-in boyfriend of three years called me, at work no less, and said, “Hayley, I cheated on you. I can’t even believe it. I can’t stand myself. I’m so sorry.” Stunned, I turned to my 40-year-old co-worker and told her what happened. “Cheating should happen only once,” she told me. “You can forgive someone once, but never twice.” It was good advice for a married couple with kids, maybe. But at the time, I was 25. I should have left him, I know. But I hung on for two more painstaking years while our relationship disintegrated. He was a nice guy, but a mess. He was a child molestation survivor, and I chalked the cheating up to a result of that horrible experience that blackened his childhood.

Of course, there were no children involved in either of these situations, so what do I know really about cheating on a family? But with Congressman Anthony Weiner’s display on Twitter I’ve wondered what my stance would be if Andy somehow revealed himself. I think the interesting aspect of Weiner’s story is the line it crosses. Is it humiliating? Yes. Is your husband is going behind your back snapping photos of himself at the gym a betrayal? Probably. Or is it merely just a man, a desperate, egocentric, aging man (the aging part is The Daily Beast columnist Christopher Dickey’s theory), engaging in some online sexual fantasy?

In her Salon column, “When Does Online Fantasy Become Infidelity,” Tracy Clark-Flory seems to think Weiner’s Twitter posts go beyond infidelity, and even teeters on being an internet casualty.

“I don’t mean to excuse Weiner’s behavior or endorse any of the scenarios above, but I do think that the congressman’s scandal serves as a reminder of how technology has forever changed the landscape of intimacy and fidelity. Of course, sex scandals have been happening since forever — that’s nothing new — but the Web provides countless new avenues for the sort of escape and validation that has always driven people’s affairs.”

I personally don’t care what Weiner does with his Weiner. (Same old joke, I know. And for the record, I think it’s absurd that he’s resigning. His Twittering, yet high on the yuck factor, was consensual.) But the idea of your husband cheating on the internet without actually cheating with a real person—when does it fall under the category of betrayal? In our house, there’s an internet porn waiver. Because sending direct tweets of your penis is not quite the same as peeking on Fleshbot. (Oh, come on you prudes! Who hasn’t looked on Fleshbot?) Of course, porn peeks isn’t what we’re talking about. There are the men, like Weiner–and women–who take it a step further.

It reminds me of a chapter from Little Children by Tom Perotta. There’s a scene in which Sarah the main character (played by Kate Winslet in the movie) walks in on her husband interacting (is that the right word?) on a porn site, with used panties that he bought from a porn site, on his head. Perotta writes of the husband, Richard, in his moment of indecision:

“It was beyond his power to stop, now that he’d come this far. Besides, if there was one thing life had taught him, it was that it was ridiculous to be at war with your own desires… Day after day, he’d laughed at himself, and said, You don’t want to do this. You can’t want this. You’re not the kind of creep who orders a pair of used panties over the Internet.”

Perotta captures the humanity of a man on the verge of cheating here. My guess it could easily apply to Weiner or any man, or woman for that matter, who is about to make choices that could potentially pummel their marriage. I don’t think I could, or would, find myself attracted to my husband after finding out about sexy pictures on the internet (or if he had someone else’s used underwear on his head, Jeeze.) That kind of sexual desperation just doesn’t do it for me. It might not be infidelity, but it’s certainly a turn off.

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Posted in: Marriage, Sex