Tiger Woods and his wife were dining in a fashionable Chinese restaurant. When it was time to crack open the fortune cookies, Elin impulsively tore open her husband’s and read the cryptic fortune aloud: “He who drives well on the fairway may not always fare well on the driveway.”
“What do you think this means?” she asked in a trembling voice. Her husband did not utter a word, but a grave fear began to sweep over him, portending that he would soon be looking into the “ire of the tigress.” His day of reckoning would not be far away.
Shortly after the disclosure of the Golf King’s string of infidelities, Ashley Madison, a Toronto agency that promotes adultery (and remains apparently unconvinced that cheating on one’s spouse can have dire consequences), offered the Toronto Transit Commission $200,000 to carry an ad reading: “Life is short. Have an affair.”
It is a strange and puzzling feature of our topsy-turvy world that cheating on the golf course is absolutely verboten and is met with swift censure, punishment and disqualification, while, at least in some circles, cheating on one’s spouse is systematically promoted. Feminists should be outraged.
Human beings, especially when it comes to morality, are exceedingly slow learners. They tend not to notice timeless truths as they fall victim to momentary desires. “Affair,” of course, is a euphemism for “catastrophe.” Moreover, justifying an “affair” on the basis of life being short is a curious non sequitur. The brevity of life would suggest that it be spent wisely. The proposed ad would be emblazoned on the exterior of a streetcar in letters large enough so that commuters could read them when the vehicle is moving at full speed. Life is, indeed, short when we squeeze it into a moment. And that is what temptation usually is: the deceptive belief that the moment is everything and the long span of a well-lived life is nothing.
The isolated moment, however, is a myth. Each moment in our lives has an impact on the next moment. Our life, then, can be either a series of well-orchestrated moments that bring us meaning and satisfaction or it can be a collection of unrelated episodes that leaves it broken and incomprehensible. To succumb to temptation is to allow the momentary to gain victory over the momentous.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis had the temerity to describe marital infidelity as a “monstrosity.” He employed this bracing term because, as he explained, it is an attempt to “isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.” However excessive the word “monstrosity” may sound to the post-modern ear, it is apt. Why do we call a monster by that name? It is because he features an unnatural dominance of certain aspects of his being to the exclusion of others that belong to him. Dr. Frankenstein’s monster is strength without reason, grace, love or civility. He is a parody of a human being. He is not monstrous because he has strength, but because this single attribute operates independently of those complementary counterparts that are needed to make up an integrated person. So, too, adultery is not monstrous because it involves the sexual element, but because it operates without the love, commitment, generosity and sacrifice that give sexuality its personal meaning and moral significance. It is, therefore, a parody of sexuality.
G. K. Chesterton remarked that, “Sex is an instinct that produces an institution.” To leave sex at the level of mere instinct is to quarantine it in its most primitive state. Humanizing factors must be added to the sexual instinct if it is to be civilized into the institution of marriage. Marriage as an institution far transcends both the momentary and the instinctive.
“Life is short. Have an affair” is truly a monstrous suggestion. Life is really long, which means that we had better put it into order. Wasted youth can bring about long years of bitter regret.
Long Day’s Journey into Night, Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, indicates, metaphorically, that a misspent life can produce dark and dreadful consequences. Years of meaningless existence can seem interminable.
Fidelity means playing the course from the first to the last in the proper sequence. For marriage, it happily adheres to the order of friendship, love, marriage, children and grandchildren. Fidelity binds time as it binds loved ones. It enlarges our lives and gives us our rightful place in history. And, in being faithful to one’s spouse, one is being faithful to both himself and to God.
Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary.