Single women who have affairs with married men should be held accountable

By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Monica Lewinsky has finally apologized – but to the wrong party. In a startling letter to Liz Smith of the New York Post highlighting her desire to take responsibility for her actions in having had an affair with the president, she writes that she took the opportunity in a recent television interview “to apologize to former President Clinton for having betrayed his trust by confiding in my friend Linda Tripp. It’s an apology he was owed and one I wasn’t sure had been given.”

Talk about weird. Here you have a single woman who had an affair with a married man. But rather than apologize to the man’s wife for stealing her husband and causing her terrific pain, she apologizes to her former lover for betraying their secret. But then, single women who have affairs with married men are rarely held accountable. It’s always the men who we blame, while the women get off the hook.

To be sure, a lying and cheating husband is a greater offender than the single woman he cheated with because it is he who breaks his marital vows and sins against the woman who took his last name and bore his children. Married men who are unfaithful lack gratitude, display obscene selfishness, and offend the Creator – who in His infinite kindness provided them with a lifelong companion to mitigate their loneliness and provide erotic excitement.

Fair enough. But why should single women who have affairs with married man be treated as neutral parties who have done little wrong? Why indeed in the sad Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was all the opprobrium heaped on Bill and almost none on Monica? Why do single women who are home-wreckers get a pass?

If Monica Lewinsky were to have stolen Hillary Clinton’s watch and gotten caught, surely she would have been condemned as a thief. And had she broken into the White House in the middle of the night and kidnapped Chelsea, she would have been hated as a kidnapper. But when she took away a woman’s husband by trespassing the deepest intimacy which is the exclusive domain of a wife, she was made into an international celebrity and given an apparel line and a TV-hosting job to boot.

America, it seems, is becoming a nation of adulterers. In my 2002 book, “Kosher Adultery,” I charted the rapid growth in extra-marital liaisons over the past few decades with the most startling increase being, surprisingly, among married women. Indeed, Newsweek magazine published a revealing cover story just last week about the shocking rise in the number of wives who are taking lovers and betraying their marriages.

A few years ago, Cosmopolitan magazine went even further in asserting that married women are having more affairs than their husbands. Even if this is an exaggeration, there can be no doubt that the deep marital dissatisfaction among ignored and neglected wives has led to a startling explosion of women who believe that indulging their right to feel sexy in another man’s arms is an acceptable solution to an unsatisfying relationship.

I wrote “Kosher Adultery” to demonstrate to married couples how the erotic sinfulness and steamy lust of adultery could be transferred into the all-too-legal institution of marriage. My desire was to teach husbands how make their wives into their mistresses and turn their marriages into an affair. No doubt, making marriages more passionate is a key ingredient in curbing the growing culture of infidelity. But there can be no substitute for the critical reproach that is absolutely mandatory in holding people accountable when they cheat on their spouses. And that means meeting out significant social censure both on the spouse who cheats and the partner they cheat with.

Far from adultery being something benign – “It was just sex honey, I didn’t love her” – to be cheated on by one’s spouse is one of the most painful and agonizing experiences a man or woman can ever endure, and we dare not trivialize it. In one study, a group of women described the trauma of discovering that their husbands had found a mistress akin to being present at their own funerals. When your husband replaces your body with that of another woman, it makes you feel like you’re a corpse. You married this man because he made you feel special. Now, not only are you plain, you’re non-existent. You’ve been replaced by someone more beautiful.

I found it outrageous and immoral when so many people asserted that Hillary Clinton experienced no anguish in the Monica Lewinsky scandal because she and Bill “had an understanding.” Here was a case of a wife being robbed not only of her husband, but of her legitimate right to experience pain. I have never been a great fan of Hillary Clinton’s politics, but dehumanizing her through speculation as to her reptilian nature and her inability to feel aggrieved by a philandering husband was downright criminal, especially when many who were making the allegations claimed to be defenders of the institution of marriage.

And here we go again, with Monica Lewinsky apologizing to Bill for confessing their affair to a confidante while offering no apology to the aggrieved spouse.

Some of my friends tell me I am wrong to be so hard on Monica. They point out that single women who have affairs with married men are the real ones who suffer. They are the ones left with a broken heart when the affair ends, while the husband usually goes back to a forgiving wife and children. Surely, they tell me, this was the case with Monica who is now a marked and lonely woman for the rest of her life.

What an absurd argument. Should we then feel sorry for the criminal who steals someone else’s Mercedes when it is confiscated by the police and he is now forced to walk? Should our hearts bleed for poor Immanuel, the lunatic who stole Elizabeth Smart, when he was robbed of his “wife” and thrown into prison for his acts of rape and kidnapping? After all, he was left with nothing as well and suffers till today of a broken heart.

I know, I know. Adultery is not murder and it’s not kidnapping. I agree. But that doesn’t make it trivial or insignificant. Just ask any of the women whose husbands cheated on them and they will tell you it was one of the most painful and humiliating experiences of their lives. Indeed, marital infidelity often leads directly to allegations of murder and rape as America knows all too well with the high-profile trials of Kobe Bryant and Scott Peterson.

The pain of an unhappy marriage is never assuaged through the momentary pleasures of a becoming a lying rogue.