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and forsaking all others, keep only unto [her/him], as long as you both shall live...

It's spelled out in marriage vows, and if it wasn't explicitly addressed in a committed relationship, it's certainly implied... "forsaking all others" It means, "I love you, now prove that you treasure me above all others by saving yourself for me and only me". Monogamy... it's what our world, our perception of relationships is based on right? So why then does it seem to be such a difficult standard to uphold? This entire weekend screamed "infidelity". I saw Closer again, and I caught Unfaithful on cable, plus there were a myriad of conversations surrounding the ghosts of past transgressions. I found myself revisiting scenes from my own life that I haven't though on in quite some time.

I found Closer to have the most stunningly accurate descriptions of the how's and whys of sexual transgressions... specifically, Alice's confrontation with her lover, Dan is quite haunting, "How . . .? How does it work? How can you do this to someone? . . . 'I fell in love' - as if you had no choice. There's a moment, there's always a moment; I can do this, I can give in to this or I can resist it . . . You didn't fall in love, you gave into temptation.".

I followed her hypothesis through in every instance, in every sordid tale I knew - and there it always was... that moment - a moment of truth, if you want to be romantic about it. It's not always the moment you think it is... and sometimes it's a series of moments - each one a decision that can create drama or quell it. Without even a single word of dialogue addressing the issue, Unfaithful replays the moment for you - showing you two hours later where the devastation could have been avoided - and you know what? it wasn't in the beat before their first kiss, or in the second his fingers slipped under her collar as he took her coat... it's before that, before their eyes breed an intimacy, before her mind has the chance to wander. It's when he's invited her up and she watches the first free cab she's seen pass her right by. In that moment she made a choice, perhaps even an innocent one, that changed her life... such a small thing, to indulge in the kindness of a stranger - and look where it led.

A secondary character from the same film argues that "Having an affair is nothing like taking a pottery class... It would start out like that, and then, something would happen. Someone finds out, or someone falls in love, and it ends disastrously. It always ends disastrously." and yes. It always does... doesn't it? When you look at a situation and say to yourself, "no good can come of this" you're usually right. Someone is going to get crushed in the end. As much as I paint us all as being walled off from emotion... this is precisely the kind of situation where people let down their guards... the emotions are heightened, the bond in an affair it seems preternaturally strong because it's secretive and intense by nature... people push boundaries, play an extensive game of chicken, not wanting to flinch first... but in the end, there is always a body count. Even if the affair is never discovered, concealed for all time from the betrayed party... when it's broken off, one if not both parties suffer.

Where is the transgression in all of this though? Where is the harm in giving up your body to someone if your lover still has your heart? Is it all about the betrayal of trust? The breaking of that vow, spoken or not - that promised you would be true to this person? And what exactly doe it mean to be "true" to someone? People have all different criteria for what constitutes "cheating" whether it's kissing, or sex, or somewhere in between... but personally I don't think any of that matters. I think there is a line in your heart, and you know when you've crossed it. And there might not even BE a physical manifestation, but it's there just the same. Jimmy Carter is often mocked for admitting to the would that he had been adulterous "in his heart"... we laugh that off and go on about how it's normal, or healthy to fantasize about someone else, to nurse a crush on them. But imagine if you will what an adulteration of the heart might look like... Picture yourself in love, then imagine discovering that your lover had stayed up all night "just talking" to someone else - one of those brilliant conversations that are so exhilarating, so intimate, they're worth losing sleep over. It can be just as painful as discovering them in flagrante with a lover, sometimes even more so... because this betrayal runs deeper than just satisfying a physical temptation, this betrayal attacks you on an emotional plane - tearing at the fabric of what it is that keeps you together.

We ask each other how? how could you do this?... but inside we know, we know what it is to hurt someone causally, callously simply because you lost your focus for a moment. We've all been hurt in this life, but more importantly, we've all hurt someone else. For me it was a very long time ago. I fell in love with K, who sent me off to school broken hearted. Then I met James. James who thought I was out of his league, James who never had told a woman he loved her before, James who helped me smile again. And then K re-appeared, unafraid this time, to love me. I was confused, undoubtedly I still loved him, but didn't I love James too? Such are the dilemmas of a young heart. When James broke it off citing that I was still in love with K, I cried and hysterically. My heart was so heavy, I couldn't stand the fact that I had hurt him, and yet I couldn't deny my burgeoning love for K. We were brilliantly happy, we wrote sappy love letters, talked on the phone constantly, spent every possible minute of our visits smiling like idiots... it was possibly the best 3 month stint of our 5 year career. And then my moment happened. I went to return a video to James' house. Our group of friends still tended to hang out there, so there was nothing particularly strange about this visit... except that when I got there, James was alone. Standing awkwardly by the door, he invited me in... right there was my moment. right then i could have walked away and preserved the eden of my love and I stayed. We drank, and we watched terrible "B" movies, and I thought, for a moment, that this was the beginning of our friendship. I could have stopped him from kissing me, but I was in a tractorbeam of guilt... I had already caused him so much pain, how could I reject him now? The words that did me in? i thought i'd never hold you in my arms again, i dreamed i would, but i never believed it I spent the night. I was devastated in the morning. K and I weren't "officially" together... we'd agreed we could both see other people - but it didn't matter. Neither of us had been, neither of us wanted to, we were in love. My night with James had just proven to me without any shadow of a doubt that I loved K more than anything, but now I had just destroyed that. Worse still, I stood at the threshold of my second moment and I told him. I told him because I couldn't bear not to. Because I was young enough not to realize what a selfish act a confession is, because I believed that unless I told him, everything from that point on would be a lie. And I broke him, I broke us that night with my words.

I spent so many nights thereafter wondering why I made the choice I did with James when I was so in love with K... Jude Law finally managed to give me my answer, "You don't have the guts to let him hate you". Ah. How that sliced to the heart of the matter. I didn't. I can talk all I want about it being an act of kindness, about not wanting to disappoint him again... but really, really, it was about me. I didn't want to fall from his pedestal - and so I chose not to. An infidelity is a deliberate act... selfish and deliberate. It doesn't happen "by accident" , it's never a mistake... "There is no such thing as a mistake. There are things you do, and things you don't do." (Unfaithful). You often hear of people "playing with fire" - well it's a conscious choice, no one ought to be shocked if they get burned. There is no book, no commandment, no all encompassing moral code that can dictate how our actions will be received. As much of life is, it's a gamble... you can pull and tug at the boundaries that surround us all, but the bottom line is that you never know where that will lead, or for that matter - where your partner has set the bar. You never know which crimes of the heart are unforgivable until they have been committed.


I know i have a lot more to say about this. but I'm afraid this draft will have to do for now, as i can't quite wrap my brain around what it is exactly that I'm trying to express...