Til Death (Or One Mistake) Do We Part

I was watching an episode of House, where a woman was admitted with a life-threatening illness that no-one could work out. They suspect it’s an obscure sexually-transmitted virus, but both the woman and her husband are adamant they didn’t have an affair. Having run out of options, the doctors start her on treatment for this virus. If she gets better, it means she had an affair; if she dies, it means she didn’t.

At one point, when she was comatose and not responding to treatment, the husband said to the Doctor that he loved her so much, but he felt so betrayed at the mere thought of her having an affair. Part of him would rather have her die as proof she had been faithful then live as proof she hadn’t. He asks the female doctor if this makes him a bad person, and after a pause, the she says yes it does.

And I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought she was going to say, no, it’s not wrong for you to want your wife to have been faithful. Because apparently we live in a society where it’s a cardinal (and some wish capital) sin for a woman to have an affair.

Now, I’m not condoning pathological philandering. But I never understood what was such a big deal about an isolated indiscretion. Sure, you have to work to get a person’s trust back, but is your love for a person so conditional that they can’t make a mistake?

The show ends up with the woman responding to treatment – and her husband’s pleas to get better. Then he walks out on her. Because you were, like, completely distraught over losing her five minutes ago and now you’re back to be a proud, stubborn male with (presumably) double standards.

If the media must make such a big deal out of infidelity, then create a single standard. Have women walk out after one misguided affair, one drunken mistake. Have men be remorseful because they couldn’t keep it in their pants that one time and now they’ve lost the love of their life. If nothing else, it should make the (mostly male) writers sit up and think that they don’t like it much when the shoe’s on the other foot.

After all, nobody’s perfect.


  1. sbg says

    Sure, you have to work to get a person’s trust back, but is your love for a person so conditional that they can’t make a mistake?

    I think that if it is so conditional that they can’t make a mistake, then it wasn’t really love in the first place.

    I probably shouldn’t talk, because I’ve had this happen to me and I couldn’t deal. Part of that might be because I told the guy that I bruise easily, so don’t hurt me…and then he did. And part of it might be because I had never really had a guy profess to love me with such sincerity that I actually believed him before, and so the wound wasn’t a bruise so much as a massive knife to my heart.

    Whatever the case, I found out that I didn’t love him enough to forgive that (or the various other abuses he inflicted – I realized after it was over that he’d been manipulating me in a variety of ways I couldn’t see because I was in love with the idea of being in love with someone), especially since it happened very early on in the relationship.

    I don’t know what my point was, sorry. Heh.

    It would be interesting to somehow know the ratio of men leaving women for cheating vs. women leaving men for cheating.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    I think your point was that if you really love someone, you at least hang around long enough to find out why they’ve betrayed you, and then decide whether it’s indicative of further problems you can’t abide, or just a mistake you can forgive. You weren’t married to that guy you’re talking about.

    For the husband in this ep, it sounds like even though he supposedly loved this woman enough to marry her, the mere fact that someone else had had sexual contact with her was enough to make him forget her. He didn’t even stick around to learn what had happened between her and this other guy – could even have been a rape she’s in denial about, for all he knows. It doesn’t matter. She’s been sullied by another man’s dick, and that lessens her property value.

    That’s the only read I can put on his attitude. Had he stuck around to find out how the affair happened, and THEN decided it indicated a moral lapse or breach of trust he just couldn’t handle, that would be different.  At least the fact that the other character said his line of thinking did make him a bad person suggests the writers weren’t treating his behavior as correct or appropriate.  Or typical of men.

  3. sbg says

    No, I wasn’t married to him. I really thought I would be one day, though, and for a person who doesn’t love easily…

    But that’s about me so it’s neither here nor there.

    I sometimes think that an act committed by a loved one can transform them instantly into someone you don’t know at all, and everything gets called into question. Seems like the guy on the show didn’t really stick around long enough for that to be the reason for his departure…because even when that happens, we alone choose how we need and/or want to proceed. To go from absolute devotion to “so long, bitch” is a bit extreme. But then, they’ve only got 40 minutes to play with.

  4. scarlett says

    But in the context you describe, the cheating was a symtom of a greater abuse of trust in the relationship, a point someone else made. This relationship was portrayed as stabela dn loving, and one of the doctors rattles off half a dozen scenarious which (by my fairly liberal standards, anyone) seemed quite forgiveable – for example, after a particularly nasty fight, she goes and gets drunk with the girls and does something she regretted. At one point he was begging for her to live, but as soon as she did, he walked off without asking for an explaination.

    More then anything it annoyed me because it the same situation, the wife probably would have stayed, at least to hear him out. It’s such a double standard in media that men can demand absolute fidelity but women should be more forgiving.

  5. Glaivester says

    In all due fairness, this was just his initial reaction. He might change his mind after he has had time to think about the situation.

    He didn’t even stick around to learn what had happened between her and this other guy – could even have been a rape she’s in denial about, for all he knows. It doesn’t matter. She’s been sullied by another man’s dick, and that lessens her property value.

    I don’t think that that possibility has probably occurred to him yet.

    the mere fact that someone else had had sexual contact with her was enough to make him forget her.

    I don’t know that he is “forgetting her.” He is just very angry and very hurt and is taking it out on her by leaving. I don’t know if it is entirely fair to judge him by his first, immediate reaction.

  6. scarlett says

    That could be a possibility. They only had 40 minute to work with, and it was hardly the primary storyline.

    But it bugged me because at one point he says to the doctor that he loves her so much he would rather she die then live as proof of her infidelity. Yeah, he proves later she doesn’t mean it when he’s begging her to live, but it was just so insanely selfish and I think it’s a male thing; women wouldn’t think of men as their possessions to be damaged and written off like that.

    At one point, when she starts to flatline, he becomes hysterical and begs her to live. I would have thought, even in her betrayal, that would have been some kind of epiphany. If he’d said something like ‘I love you but I need to think about this’ that would have made sense; he’s betrayed but he loves her so he has to think about which means more to him. But the way he walked away, he was so resolute, like he loved her,but she was damaged goods nows.

    It annoyed me for two reasons – one, the idea that she couldn’t make one mistake for him to walk away, but mostly because I couldn’t see a woman doing the same thing in the same situation. I think there’s a huge discrepancy between men and women who see any kind of cheating as a sin and their partner as damaged good because of it.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    Um, he’s not a real person being judged here. He’s a character, and that’s what fiction’s all about: being able to have all the facts and make judgment calls, in a way we can never do (accurately) in real life.

    Now, as far as I can tell, by the doctor telling the husband his near-wish for the wife to die makes him a bad person, the show is taking the position that “death do us part” bears as much consideration as “forsaking all others” in the decision to dump your spouse. There is no implication that he’s considering anything beyond the fact that she’s had sexual contact with another man. As I stated before, for all he knows, she was raped but traumatized by it and not able to admit it to herself. Apparently, that wouldn’t matter to him.

    This reminds me of a part of the consciousness raising campaign about rape and date rape in the 1980’s (not so long ago, eh?), which involved teaching men to be more supportive of wives and girlfriends who experienced rape, instead of dumping them because “I just couldn’t look at her anymore after that”? That attitude can come from traumatic empathy, in which he’s feeling her irrational shame at the violation, in which case he must actually love her and therefore can be counseled to be more supportive. Or it can come from territoriality.

    I can’t work out a position of love from which this guy could be coming. It’s territoriality, and it sounds to me like that’s what the episode was saying, and that it was saying he’s wrong to approach it that way.  That’s the moral and message of the episode, if I’m understanding it correctly from Scarlett’s description.
    Speculation about what might happen in an imaginary sequel is interesting, but nothing to do with the message the show was conveying.

  8. scarlett says

    Well, this entire site is dedicated to the analyses of the portrayal of women in media, so I think its fair to look into the charcter’s motivations, keeping in mind that it is just hypothetical speculation. I’m not going to insist my opinion is right, I’m just expressing what I thought was wrong about the epsiode. And it came across to me as him saying ‘I love you more then life, but my love is conditional on your absolute fidelity, regardless of circumstances.’ And two things came to mind; one, that this didn’t seem much like love if it was so conditional that he wouldn’t even stop to ask about the ciccumstances and two, how many women would have walked out in the same situation?

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