I love jewelry. It is my strongest vanity. I have no interest in fashion or cars, but jewelry is my Achilles' heel. I often look at the gems my husband has given me and wonder how many hungry kids each could feed. Yet my collection grows. Sometimes I see a fancy piece in a store or catalog and question whether I would trade one of mine for it? No matter how big or pretty it might be, though, I know I would never swap my beautiful jewels because each holds a story.
For the first portion of my marriage, I worried a lot about other women. I didn't worry about my husband actually cheating. I just feared that he would meet some fabulous woman and wish that he had married her — like that commercial where the guy slaps his forehead and exclaims, "I could have had a V8!"
When my husband and I were first married, we had many arguments about golfing. Not the game, itself; just the time spent at it. During one of these exchanges, he said to me, "Well, I could be out in the bars chasing women." To which I replied, "Are those my only choices?"
In college, I knew a woman who had a long-distance boyfriend. I asked her how she dealt with wondering if he was being faithful. She said, "I used to worry about that. Then I realized I could only control what I was doing." She shrugged, "I just concentrate on keeping my side of the bargain. He's got to worry about his side."
I am not proud of the fact that I have often judged people who stayed with someone who had strayed. In fact, there were times when I viewed sexual cheating as the ultimate deal-breaker — as if it were the only hurt a partner could render. When my husband and I were first dating, I "casually" brought up the issue of monogamy: Did he think it was important? Solemnly (thankfully), he replied, "I think it's the only way." Placating me? Maybe, but I took it.
Fidelity: "1. strict observance of promises, duties. 2. loyalty." Why do we primarily think of fidelity in terms of sex? Why do we focus so much on that aspect of marriage? Don't get me wrong, I fully believe in only sharing our bodies with our spouses; in it being "the only way." But isn't fidelity broader than that? Aren't there many levels to marital loyalty? How many marriages have slowly died because of neglect? Because of not listening to each other's dreams? Of not listening at all? How many marriages could have been saved with some appreciation and understanding? There have been periods in my marriage when communication has faltered, when there has been a distance. During those very silent times, the thought of my husband confiding in someone else scared me more (I think) than the fear of a physical betrayal.
When my husband teases me about having a boyfriend, I reply, "Don't be silly. I would never cheat on the children." And I mean that. Infidelity isn't just about two people's hurt; it's a family wound. Whether the affair is kept secret is irrelevant. Within the family, there is a festering, even if the splinter is untraceable.
I used to feel that if my husband had an affair — in word or deed (please, God, forbid) — it would be because he saw a bigger, better gem. It would be about getting an upgrade. I thought it would have to do with my shortcomings, with me not being enough. I certainly do believe that my marriage could weaken, that it could break down and become vulnerable to disloyalty, and I would own a piece of that. But I also believe that cheating is a decision that has everything to do with the cheater. It comes in many forms and slights. We all cheat — whether with an actual affair, a shutting down, a disrespect, a dismissal. But then follows the act of forgiving or of not, and that is not for an outsider or society to judge. That decision is only made within the tiny community of "us."
Mary White is from the Malone area. She and her husband have five children, eight cats, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She has had the privilege of working with children and families (her own and other people's) for more than 20 years.