Haven’t I written about why men cheat before? Can’t I write about anal sex? Again? For the third or fourth time in my career as a hack? If it weren’t for the perpetually hot topic of “why men cheat,” the entire gender-industrial complex would collapse.
Men cheat because people are jerks. Selfishness is the default setting of the human race. You know how there are people out there who say that they believe, deep down, everyone is good? I am not one of those folks. Right now, as I write this, a husband is lying to his wife. A woman is betraying a friend she’s known for years. A neglected baby wails and an old man strains to remember the last time anyone visited him. Another woman feels justified in sleeping with her lover because her husband has stopped touching her. A congressman calls up his mentor, a powerful senator who has groomed him since he was an intern, and lies to him, as he lied to his staff, and to the public who elected him.
Over the past two weeks, there’s been an explosion of opinion on the topic of infidelity, as if it’s an epidemic. Which it isn’t. The story of human civilization is a simple one: people are terrible to one another, and then someone isn’t, someone loves without condition or forgives without exacting a price, and that one person redeems, briefly, the species, who immediately return to their scheming.
But that doesn’t mean I believe that the human spirit is a base beast singularly concerned with its appetites and survival. What makes humans special on our little bubble floating in space is our ability to defy our nature. If everyone were faithful, faithfulness would have no value. We should be asking why men are faithful or why women are courageous.. Because those small moral decisions shine brighter than all the combined dark acts of men and women.
I’m not defending men. Men cheat. Women cheat. People suck. But the question is not why men cheat. The real question is why are so many of us surprised? Are we all naive? Has our education failed to teach us that emotional and physical brutality are abstractions? We’re surprised by true stories of moral failing because we can’t admit that people suck, and that we suck by association.
I just can’t exploit the silly armchair psychology being passed off as opinion by the fair-weather feminists, and the Sensitive Guy Action Squad and those moralizing scribblers at Search Engine Optimization Depot. Men cheat because they’re narcissists or adolescents or because they’re just so damn sexy. Yes. Yes. Yes. Men also cheat because they can. Because they do and will. We want what we can’t have. We punt on our responsibilities and pray that, just once, our actions will have no consequences. Which is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute and hoping that gravity has the day off.
These easy diagnoses don’t reach for any kind of truth. They just reinforce tribal prejudices. The readers are allowed to smugly sit back and not take any responsibility for the the things that actually bind and unite all humanity: our propensity for sin, self-destruction and vanity. As they, or you, or me, are immune to our own potential for moral failure. Any astrophysicist will tell you that space is a violent mess of imploding stars, swirling gases and colliding rocks. On a cosmic level, the center doesn’t hold. The universe is imperfect, so why should we think we’re any different?
Asking “Why Men Cheat” is asking “Why Conservatives Are Racists” is asking “Why Are Those People So Inferior To Me.” These are not thoughtful questions. These statements are brain filler at best, and at worst, dehumanizing exercises in fear-mongering. Because fear sells. Domesticated fear is, actually, the original anti-anxiety medicine. Nothing soothes quite like a nice dose of “us” versus “them.”
Men cheat. People fail. This is an immutable fact of life. I think we think we’re defined by our successes like weddings, and promotions, and crazy vacations. But I think it’s our disappointments that make us who we are. The way we emotionally adapt to a world that won’t give us what we want is the secret to human uniqueness. Some of us negotiate this chaos and behave exactly as expected — we claw, we hoard, we deceive. Some of us surrender to our lot and find that love is forgiving someone for the embarrassment of being human. Those people are special, and no one writes opinion columns about them.
I’m not a good man. But I try.
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