Infidelity is so prevalent in our society. Just go to the theater, turn on the television, pick up a magazine or read a romance novel. Hollywood glamourizes infidelity in movies, television dramas and soap operas, even in prime time weekly programs.
But when celebrities get caught cheating, it’s not so glamorous and it becomes headline news, plastered on the front pages of newspapers and gossip magazines. What exactly is infidelity? According to dictionary.com, it is described as “marital disloyalty; adultery.” The first part of that definition does not sound too bad, but the latter half of the definition, adultery, the meaning is quite disconcerting. The word adultery is “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than his or her lawful spouse” (dictionary.com). That is a blatant description of what most people refer to as having “an affair” and not so glamourous. Whether it is referred to as an extramarital affair, adultery, cheating, betrayal, unfaithfulness, or a fling, they are all one in the same, infidelity.
When a couple in love stands at the alter, they make a solemn promise before God and witnesses to love, honor and cherish one another through better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health, to be faithful and forsake all others until death do they part. So why would someone willingly have sex with another person that is not their lawfully wedded spouse? In the short story “Never Marry a Mexican” by Sandra Cisneros, Clemencia, a Chicana woman, met Drew, a white man when she was nineteen, and became his art student and his lover, although he was married. She described how “he took me under his wing, and in his bed, this man, this teacher…” (Cisneros 76). What goes through the mind of a married person when they make a conscience decision to have “voluntary sexual intercourse” with another person other than their spouse? Did they have temporary amnesia and forget the vows they promised to the one they married?
Psychologist Julia Omarzu and her colleagues had similar questions and did research to find out why (International Journal of Sexual Health). A blog in Psychology Today titled “Eight Reasons People Cheat,” Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D summarized what Omarzu and her research team discovered, that there is not just one reason, but many. In a survey conducted via internet, twenty-two men and fifty-five woman responded, ranging from 23 to 63 years of age. Of this selected group, 73% were still married after their extramarital affair. Most of the relationships lasted on average one year to five years, as opposed to a fling or a one-night-stand. But why were they unfaithful to their marriage partner? The majority of the people stated that they did it because they lacked an emotional connection with their spouse, but found it with the other person. They didn’t feel appreciated or loved, and needed an emotional closeness that they weren’t getting from their mate. Another popular reason was because they were not sexually satisfied in their marriage, having very little or no sexual relations with their spouse, so they sought to be sexually gratified with someone else (Whitbourne). Those are just a few of reasons a married person cheats on their spouse. What about Drew? What was going on in his mind when he forsook his wedding vows and had a sexual relationship with Clemencia? He was physically attracted to her. He told her she was beautiful, and she believed she was when she was with him. He would yank her head back by her braid, calling her “My Malinalli, my Malinche,” between “gulps of breaths and raw kisses.” It was a little sex game that they played. It was exciting and reckless abandonment for Drew (Cisneros 74). Could it have been that he was not sexually satisfied in his own marriage? That is a very strong possibility. On one occasion, Drew’s wife was in the hospital giving birth to their son, he was in the same bed the child was conceived making love to Clemencia (Cisneros 75). That takes reckless abandonment to the extreme.
What about love? Did Drew love Clemencia, or was it just a physical need being met? She said that her bed was “so big because he never stayed the whole night.” He always went home after a night of ecstasy. How did Clemencia feel about being used for sexual satisfaction? She said her men were “borrowed…Just the cream skimmed off the top, the sweetest part of the fruit,” not the “bitter skin that daily living with a spouse can rend” (Cisneroso 69). She could love without any strings attached, no commitment of better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health. That is another reason why people choose to have an extramarital affair, because there is no commitment. If both individuals have families, they carry on with their family life as usual when they are not with the other person. But it’s harder if one has a family and the other does not. It leaves them to wonder what goes on when the cheater returns home to his or her spouse. This is more the case of a man with a family, leaving the single woman left to wonder what his life is like with he and his wife. They become jealous or envious and will ridicule the other woman (Omarzu). This is what happened with Clemencia. She hated Drew’s wife. “I don’t care what is right anymore. I don’t care about his wife. She’s not my sister.” If she had brown skin like Clemencia, it would have been harder to hate her she said, but because Drew’s wife was white, it was easier to hate the woman he went home to every day (Cisneros 76). She fantasized about his wife; her lips, her jaw, her long long legs that wrapped themselves around the man she slept with in their bed (Cisneros 77).
Clemencia’s hate and resentment continued to build even after the relationship with Drew was broken off. She never really got over their breakup. Clemencia said she “waited like a spider all these years, since I was nineteen and he was an idea hovering in his mother’s head…” to get revenge on her ex-lover and his wife by planning early on in the relationship that she would swoop in like a spider and sleep with their son. (Cisneros 75). “I sleep with this boy, their son. To make the boy love me the way I love his father.” She continued on saying, “I can tell that the way he looks at me, I have him in my power.” She said she had the “patience of eternity” (Cisneros 82). The tables were now turned. “I was your father’s student, yes, just like you are now mine.” She became the son’s teacher like his father was to her (Cisneros 76). According to the study conducted by Omarzu, there is another reason people commit adultery, revenge. These people deliberately sleep with another person to seek revenge towards their mate for sleeping with another person. Revenge is what Clemencia had in mind when she seduced Drew’s son. Even though technically Clemencia didn’t have a spouse to get revenge since she was not married, by having a sexual relationship with the teenage boy, it was her way to get back at the boy’s parents. She didn’t care that he was so young, in his last year of high school, making him around the age of eighteen (Cisneros 76). She was a teenager herself when she became Drew’s mistress. She described her actions as “premeditated crimes,” having “caused deliberate pain to other women.” She said what she did was “vindictive and cruel,” and was “capable of anything”, even revenge (Cisneros 68).
It is very clear that Drew took full advantage of Clemencia, physically and emotionally. Why did she knowingly and willingly have sexual relationships with married men? She bragged about how she helped them to be unfaithful, being an “accomplice, committing premeditated crimes” (Cisneros 68). Was Clemencia a victim of circumstance? Clemencia described events in her past that affected her psychologically, and these events possibly set the path to making poor choices in her life. When she was at a very young and impressionable age, her mother cheated on her father with a man she worked with while her father lay in a hospital dying. After Clemencia’s father died, her mother married the other man and he moved into their home, along with his two sons. She felt abandoned and Clemencia despised her mother from that point on. She mentioned that when her father died, it was like her mother died too. She just could not forgive her mother for what she did (Cisneros 73). She remembered how her mother always told Clemencia and her sister Ximenia to “never marry a Mexican” because of the cultural differences. Her father was from Mexico City, and her mother was from the United States. Although he was from a middle-class family, he “married down” because her mother was Mexican-American and couldn’t even speak Spanish, and was looked down upon by her husband and his family. She would tell the girls, “it’s not the same, you know” (Cisneros 69, 73). Clemencia vowed to never marry at all, not any man. “Better to not marry than live a lie” (Cisneros 69). She was disillusioned first by her mother’s infidelity, and also by Drew and the other men she committed adultery with.
Drew did eventually end his extramarital relationship with Clemencia, both agreeing that it was “all for the best,” and life went on for Drew and Megan, as well for Clemencia (Cisneros 80). Cisneros never said if Megan ever knew about Drew’s extramarital affair with Clemencia. However, Clemencia planted a few clues, which one can only speculate if Megan picked up on those clues. One time Clemencia got drunk on margaritas and called Drew’s home at four a.m., Megan answered the phone and handed it to Drew without any question. Clemencia couldn’t believe how stupid she was (Cisneros 77). The other occasion for her to leave clues was when Drew and Clemencia spent their last weekend together while Megan and their son were out of town. While Drew was busy cooking dinner, Clemencia hid gummy bears in places only Megan would find them, like in the cap of her expensive lipstick, crammed in the bottles of nail polish, and even in the case of her diaphragm. She got great satisfaction from doing that, she slept “like the dead” that night (Cisneros 81). All this heartache and suffering for Clemencia could have been avoided had Drew exercised a little self-control, and kept his eyes from wandering.
How can infidelity be avoided? Jeremy Nicholson M.S.W., Ph.D. has a few practical recommendations. He wrote in two separate articles in Psychology Today, “How to Prevent Infidelity and Adultery” and “Can Prayer Keep Your Lover from Cheating?” advising how married couples can avoid the pain of infidelity (psychologytoday.com). He recommends avoid using negative, controlling, or emotionally-manipulative tactics to keep their lover faithful, as they are counter productive. To keep your mate faithful, show them that you love and care for them by improving your appearance to keep their attention, and attend to their need for romance and sex. It’s important to keep the flame alive.
Also, praying for and with your mate can help keep the marriage strong and healthy. This results in a “perspective of the relationship as sacred, and helps an individual stay faithful,” Nicholson adds. It might just help both individuals to find a new perspective, and increase “faith” in each other, and strengthen the relationship (Nicholson). Clemencia finally came to terms that the relationship between her and Drew was over after an impulsive phone call at two a.m. got her nowhere. She was startled and said nothing, but imagined he was “swearing under his breath” with his “wife beside him…familiar and dear to him” (Cisneros 83). She could see it all clearly now. It was all for the best after all. We can learn a lot in Cisneros story about the consequences of infidelity by understanding that the relationship between Drew and Clemencia’s was unproductive and futile because he stayed with his wife Megan, and it was a no-win situation for Clemencia. It only made her more calloused in the long run. The best thing for a married person to do if they are having issues in their marriage is to seek professional counselling. Sometimes it is necessary to have a mediator to help resolve conflict in a marriage. Common sense tells us to know the boundaries and do not ever cross them. Do not confide or flirt with the opposite sex, and never be alone where there could be a chance of a spark igniting. The pain and suffering of infidelity is not worth it. Nobody wins. Marriage takes a commitment on both the husband and wife in a relationship. No one ever said it would be easy, but it is worth the effort.
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