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Celebrating Adultery

It’s a tawdry tale of two adulterers, each with children (he with three, she with two), who left their spouses to marry each other.

But it’s not being treated as a tawdry tale. It’s in The New York Times, in the feel-good “Weddings/Celebrations” section, in a column titled — irony alert — “Vows.” And it’s in there because the couple, whose names are in the headline, wanted to tell the world.

Here’s the upshot. Married man met married woman at their kids’ school. They developed “unconditional and all-encompassing” feelings for each other. They agonized some, but just had to split with their spouses, because they couldn’t “deny their feelings and live dishonestly.”

If this sounds more like self-congratulation than confession, that’s because, well, it is. There’s more in that vein. The woman, who thought at first she was being punished with feelings for a man she couldn’t have, says she “came to realize it wasn’t a punishment, it was a gift. But I had to earn it. Were we brave enough to hold hands and jump?” The man, likewise, says “I did a terrible thing as honorably as I could.”

Let’s review the language here. Adultery and abandonment can be done “honorably.” It takes “bravery.” It’s a “gift,” but it’s also something you “earn.”

Turns out the Times’ “Vows” column has a track record of celebrating unions begun with (at least) one partner cheating on a spouse, according to New York Magazine: “We find they always use the same kind of language. The couple ‘faced many obstacles to happy romance,’ they’ll say. Their relationship was ‘complicated.’ Their ‘road to love was bumpy.’ “

In other words, when your feelings are your god — all-excusing, all-justifying — then naturally language, too, must be twisted to make you feel good. Or, at least, to make you not feel bad.

Long past time to rediscover some older language, isn’t it? Adultery. Betrayal. Sin. Shame. Words like that.


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About the Author

Matt Kaufman

Matt Kaufman has been a columnist for Boundless since the site’s founding in 1998, and did a stint as editor in 2002-2003. He’s also a former staffer and current contributing editor for Focus on the Family Citizen magazine. Matt is a freelance writer/editor who spent some years in Colorado, but gave up the mountains for the cornfields: He now lives in his hometown of Urbana, home of the University of Illinois. His house is a five minute drive from the one where he grew up, and he enjoys daily walks around the park where he used to play baseball.

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