Should You Forgive a Cheater?
Carrie turns to The Women for a lesson in forgiveness
This weekend I stumbled upon The Women on TCM (the indelible 1939 version with Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell – not last year’s monstrosity.)
I was, of course, impressed by the powerful performances of the entirely female cast. And I laughed heartily at the “divorce train to Reno” scene. And I adored the script’s modern and witty social observations on the interactions between men, women and other women.
But more than all that, I was struck by the film’s central relationship thesis. Which was something along the lines of: Stand by your man.
Or, more precisely – If he cheats, it’s not really his fault because men are weak creatures lured by the likes of perfume girls, and relationships take work, so it’s up to you to woo him back.
Sound familiar, Governor Sanford?
Here’s the thing. If I’d heard this thesis coming out of the mouth of some marriage minded self-help author, I would have instantly dismissed it as drivel. I’d mock the backward-thinking, sexist message as a pile of romantic rubbish.
But as I watched The Women, I melted in agreement. Maybe it was the nostalgic black and white celluloid. Perhaps it was the recent example of South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford, who has refused to condone her husband’s cheating, yet has remained open to a possible reconciliation.
Somehow, someway, I was suddenly onboard the forgive-and-forget express.
For the first time, the idea of working to save a relationship rather than throwing in the towel after an affair seemed to be dignified rather than weak.
But I was still troubled by some tenets of this theory. Are men really helpless against the charms of other (read: Argentinean) women? Is it really the duty of women to salvage their marriages in the face of infidelity?
What about our pride? Our dignity? Or is that “womanly” pride working against us?
“People tend to assume that bad people have affairs, and good people don’t, or that affairs only happen in bad marriages,” Peggy Vaughan, author of To Have and to Hold, told the New York Times this weekend. “These assumptions are just not based in reality.”
Maybe it’s just been a long week and I’m feeling softer than usual. But it seems we all could use a little forgiveness in our relationships.
As Sylvia Fowler asks in The Women, “Mary Haines, don’t you have any pride?”
To which Mary responds, “No pride at all. That’s a luxury a woman in love can’t afford.”
Read Carrie’s last blog post: I Have a Hunch About A Boy