May 15, 2003

When your friends do terrible things

I have been told on more than one occasion that I am judgemental and unfair because I assume that people hold themselves to the standards to which I hold myself. So, I'm trying very hard to empathize and listen without passing value judgements. You know, life just "is".

But it's hard to do this when you go out to lunch with a friend, we'll call him Isaac, who's cheating on his wife. He's had the same mistress since about one year after the wedding. It's been 4 years. He claims he can't be honest with his wife, because he cares too much about her and he doesn't want to hurt her. I pointed out that if he really cared too much and didn't want to hurt her, he wouldn't be cheating on her. He then explains that he tried to stop the affair, but he just couldn't.

And all of a sudden, my Zen-like handle on life that just "exists" is lost. I am swimming in a raging sea of thoughts that question Isaac's inability to be honest and fair with his wife, the human condition, and honestly, how he can look at himself in the mirror each day. He is a great, awesome, caring individual. I value his friendship. And I can't begin to understand how he doesn't value his own honesty enough to tell his wife what is going on. Now, whenever I see his wife, I feel uncomfortable in the very personal knowledge that I hold, which honestly is none of my business. I wish he hadn't told me.

To clarify, it's not that I am offended by his lack of respect for the institution of marriage. Society as a whole doesn't take marriage as seriously as I would like them to, but that's tough for me--I can deal with it. What frustrates me is how unfair the situation is. If his marriage was built on an understanding that he was going to engage in extra-marital affairs and his wife had agreed to it before he started cheating on her, I would not see anything particulary offensive about the arrangement. Not for me, but hey, different strokes for different folks.

What irks me is that Isaac posesses many of the personality traits that I would like my future spouse to have. I was shocked when he told me about the affair several years ago. I was shocked again when I recently learned that he never broke it off. Regardless of whether he is passionately in love with her or not, he definitely cares deeply for his wife. And, yet, he can come home from work after a lunch date with his paramour to kiss his devoted wife hello.

I guess the reality that you never really know someone is very frustrating to me. What it comes down to is this: If a great guy like Isaac could do it, couldn't my future spouse?

So, as you can see--I'm going to need some work on the "empathize and listen without passing value judgements" part. Particuarly in cases like this, where I don't have any desire to back up and be impartial. It seems WRONG to treat someone you care about in such a passive agressive manner. But maybe the other alternatives are even more wrong...I'll never know, I'm not Isaac.

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