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Of Extramarital Affairs and Inexact Advice

March 26, 2000|VICKI IOVINE

Dear Readers: Starting at dawn on March 12, the e-mail response to my column, "Mum's the Word," about whether a friend should tell her friend that her mate is having an affair, was fast and furious--emphasis on the furious. It is still pouring in as I write to you. Please bear with me while I eat a little crow, as well as take this chance to explain some of the thinking behind my words.

First, a very sincere thanks to every one of you who accused me of being insensitive to the risk of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases that an extramarital affair brings. I have no defense to that. Not only have I been talking to my children about safe sex since they were old enough to understand the word "safe," I fully know the depths of despair such an illness brings into a family.

The only thing I can think of to explain my blindness in this area is that I got married nearly 20 years ago, while people were still zooming anyone they fancied with no thoughts about tomorrow. Still, it's plainly ignorant of me not to expect my readers to hold me to the standards of here and now. I really don't live in a cave. To all of you who wrote about your own tragedies of contracting disease from a philandering mate, I want to say: I am so sorry.

Another huge contingent of writers suggested that I had no more feminist conscience than a direct descendant of "The Donna Reed Show." They maintained that I was promoting a way of thinking that was disrespectful of women and condoned the outmoded concept of a "double standard" for men in relationships. This is where I choke on the crow.

Nowhere in my column did I suggest that this was a rule for women and not for men. I wrote from my personal experience, which happens to be that of a female, but I would no sooner tell a male friend that his wife was cheating than tell the wife that he was. In fact, my message was not that the cheated-on spouse should ignore all the indications that there was trouble in paradise.

What I believe is that it is not a friend's wisest move to barge into a cherished chum's life with photo evidence and nefarious hotel receipts to prove an infidelity that the chum isn't ready to hear. You and I both know that at least half the time when an extramarital affair has been discovered, either the offending spouse comes up with some acceptable story and immediately proceeds to start a character defamation case against the news bearer or he or she confesses, begs for forgiveness, promises that it won't happen again and still they start omitting you from their Rolodexes.

And, if it hasn't been hard enough having complete strangers tell me how big the "L" for loser is on my forehead, my husband's own friends have taken to misinterpreting me. A "free pass" is the exact description several of his buds have given to my announcement that I would probably not break up my family over one indiscretion. Their understanding was that my mate has one free "Get Out of Jail" card in his deck and only had to save it up for a worthy sin.

Hey, I never fancied myself getting divorced over a one-night stand, but anything more would only go further toward convincing me that I might rather be a widow than a divorcee under those circumstances. (Please, don't anyone write in saying that I'm endorsing homicide--it's a joke!)

Interestingly, very few people told me that they had actually informed on a wayward spouse and were happy with their decision in retrospect. Some have never again spoken to the humiliated friend, and others had to wait patiently several years before the friendship could be resurrected.

Those readers who gave me the most grief, however, were people who didn't seem to have an abundance of marital mileage under their wedding wheels. Either they hadn't been married yet or had been burned early on and ended the relationship.

No offense, but I would really like to hear from any of you out there who have a child or two (or four, as in my case) who was sincerely grateful for a friend stepping in to expose the mate's sextracurricular affairs. Once again, I take the position that the concessions and forgiveness required to get through a lifetime commitment are as private and varied as the number of couples in this world.

Bottom line: Even a marriage with 20 kids is not justification for jeopardizing one of the partner's health. If this is the rule, then a friend who tells must be willing to be ostracized by both hubby and wife and take strength from the fact that she or he has possibly saved a life. At the very least, a conversation with the offending spouse about the risks of STDs might be a suitable start. Let's face it, the player is less likely to stay your friend anyway.


Vicki Iovine is the author of the "Girlfriends' Guide," a columnist for Child magazine and parenting correspondent for NBC's "Later Today." Write to her at Girlfriends, Southern California Living, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, L.A., CA 90053; e-mail

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