Bending the vows: Is it an affair if it's just kissing? YES!

Martine Sansoucy

Are marriage vows more like pottery or playdoh? That's the question that seems to emerge from a recent 'confession' by one unnamed woman in an article from the Huffington Post (read it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/14/cheating-kissing_n_4269228.html) If they're pottery, one break is enough. It doesn't matter if the vase overall is intact, if it's cracked, it's broken. If they're playdoh on the other hand, they are more malleable, and can be stretched and twisted to fit whatever shape you like. And certainly, bending the vows is what this woman is doing, as she herself explains.

"My husband Ryan* and I have been married for 15 years… we have a daughter whose best friend is the daughter of the man who I am having a kissing affair with. [Kissing's] all we do. His name is Jeff*. Jeff's wife Clara* doesn't like kissing. My husband Ryan doesn't like kissing… somehow Jeff and I realized we like kissing each other."

She explains further: "…Jeff and I were both picking up our daughters from a dance class... Jeff and I got to talking and something weird happened when the girls were kind of out of sight... We kissed… We were just having good conversation and it wasn't a sexually charged conversation either.

"We've met up before pick-ups to kiss. We've smooched at the park when no one was looking. We've kissed in our cars. Carla doesn't know and Ryan doesn't know… we don't want them to know. We also have no interest in taking things any further… Cheating? I don't think so. Not really. Only a little bit. And I don't think that counts."

But the overall reaction to this confession has been widely negative, and with good reason. One reader, Darris, says "Cheating is lying . . . you're lying. If it's not something you would share with your mate, you're cheating."

LilCombatBoots adds: "I think life mostly comes in shades of grey. But not in this case. She is just in denial because she can't reconcile the good person she thinks she is and the bad things she is doing." MaverickPower presents an alternative situation that reveals this in a starkly cold light: "Your husband is having a kissing affair with his male co-worker, it's just kissing, he's not gay or anything, don't be upset."

There is very little doubt in the collective readers' mind that this is cheating, and a brief examination of the testimony reveals why. Firstly, she's quick to point out that their two daughters were "kind of out of sight" when the first kiss happened. If this was something she had no need to be ashamed of, there would be no worrying to be had about who saw what.

Secondly, there's the uncertainty with which the piece concludes. "I don't think so. Not really. Only a little bit." There's a definite progression there from outright opinionated denial to low level acceptance. She is having difficulty hanging onto the idea of what she is doing as anything less than wrong. As the commenters said, denial as a result of a failure to reconcile self-righteousness with action.

Thirdly, and most tellingly, there's the fact that neither she nor 'Jeff' wants their respective partners to know. If there was nothing wrong, there would be nothing to hide. There is the potential argument of "but they might not understand that it didn't mean anything" but the fact is that, in a marriage, how the other person feels about what you are doing is important. That is a large part of what marriage is. Consideration for the other party's feelings.

What is happening here is clearly an example of unfaithfulness, but the more striking fact is that the Huffington Post felt the need to ask this as a question, and that there is the potential for an actual debate on these matters. Matters like this should be like a query over the Pope's religious leanings, so the fact we've had to make an issue about it raises some curious questions about society more broadly.

For example some of the commenters have voiced their objections because they're not convinced that this affair is going to stay at "first base". Skip1c1 points out "Some of my best love making has started with a kiss, so, I think a home run is in the making in this situation." ClemTan says, "Continual macking sessions that she doesn't believe will lead to sex? Is she 12?" and scg35 added: "Next thing it will be. We had sex, I'm not sure how it happened, it just did and it was magical. That's how it starts."

But is kissing really something less intimate than sex. It's well known that while many prostitutes will perform a vast plethora of sexual acts with their clients, kissing is often considered sacrosanct and something they only do with those they feel emotionally beholden too. And even so, are we really going to judge the wrongness of an act of infidelity on some kind of graduated scale?

Relativism is something we see frequently in modern morality, and it is decidedly not Christian. It looks benign so often we don't realise how bad it actually can be. Occasionally when someone is feeling sad, comforters place the suffering in context telling you "X person in Y place has it much worse than you". This perspective can sometimes be helpful, but if you follow that logic through to conclusion it leads to bizarre consequences. It ultimately means that only the one person who has it worst in the whole world has a right to be sad. Everyone else has at least one level down to go, and thus cannot complain. This is the kind of strange world relativism creates. Not everything is meant to be seen like this, and sometimes an attempt to do so causes many problems.

Academics who discuss ethics often like to break down systems of morality into two groups. The "Deontological" and the "Consequentialist". Deontological comes from the Greek word Deon which means Duty. In this sense, Deontological ethics are about rules, and whether or not something is right or wrong is entirely dependent on whether or not you have broken a set of prescribed rules. Consequentialists however are less concerned with rules than they are with outcomes. As their name suggests, it is the consequences of an action that matter to them. An action can only be described as bad, if it has bad outcomes. This makes consequentialism a lot more like a spectrum of grey, whereas deontological thinking is very black and white.

Christianity is deontological. Whether or not an action is sinful is based on whether or not a member of the Trinity commanded against it. In this case, it is fairly clear that a Christian should be very opposed to something like this, as is only natural. But what should be more concerning for the Christian is that such a thing is even a discussion in the first place. Much as sometimes it might be convenient to think so, it isn't possible to 'sort of' sin. There might be things that are not sin that are not helpful to our walk with God, but sin is clearly a yes/no proposition, regardless of whether we can see the consequences of it.

To this woman, the correct Christian response would be a compassionate condemnation. Just as Jesus was with the adulterous woman turned her persecutors away without sanctioning her sin in John 7-8, so we must encourage her to face the reality of what she has done wrong whist not rubbing her face in it. We can't be soft hearted here. We can't let the defence that it just "happened" stand. It wasn't the case, as Mkelly534 comments, that "The magic 'Cheating Fairies' cover them with pixie dust and put them in position. They had no control over their bodies clearly."

This witness is not only important to her, but to society at large. Christians should not be simplistic moralists who waggle their fingers when people misbehave. Condemn, but do so with a heart that makes it clear that ultimately each and every one of us overflows with forgiveness.

In this particular case, only when she realises that she and 'Jeff' have done something wrong can they both move on and do what they perhaps should have tried doing in the first place – talking honestly with their respective partners to find a solution within their existing relationships.

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