Adultery Under the Public Eye

Navigating relationships of any form is difficult, especially when you’re under the public eye. For celebrities, there is the constant pressure of public scrutiny and the awareness that every single action will be closely watched, reported-upon, and discussed. Dissected into segments that become almost meaningless because they are so tiny. Your face will be on the cover of newsstands and you won’t be able to leave your house without being trailed by people who are so heavily invested in your life that your life has become their career; for good and for bad.

I think of this especially when celebrity scandals surrounding adultery come up. The news reports on the situation in graphic detail and the only emotional response I have beyond utter disinterest in someone else’s personal life is a sadness for the parties involved. Dealing with adultery is going to be difficult in any kind of relationship, but it seems like it would be a lot harder if everyone’s watching you, expecting some kind of action from you. With that kind of outside pressure, it would appear virtually impossible to have a productive conversation about the situation and discuss next steps.

All the parties must follow a specific formula and engage in a particular emotional performance to satisfy eager viewers, who will not hesitate to tear them apart if they do not get what they want. The wronged party should be infuriated, announcing plans to move out of the house and cut off contact with the wrongdoer, who of course is contrite and issues a public statement about the harm caused. If there’s a marriage involved, everyone can speculate about the divorce and what comes next. Meanwhile, the lover slinks about, or releases gloating leaked pictures, depending on gender, personality, and situation.

Under these conditions, how is a couple supposed to sit down together and talk about adultery? The fact of the matter is that people cheat, and in a relationship with a lot of stress, traveling, and time apart, as often happens to celebrities, there can definitely be a higher risk of cheating. If you’re a film star, you can spend weeks on location getting close to other cast and crew, building a new family of sorts, and the bonds you create can take on a special importance in your life. Sometimes, attractions develop. Sometimes people act on those attractions.

Couples should be able to decide how to work out a response to that on their own. For some people, cheating is something unforgivable. For others, it’s something that merits a conversation to talk about the situation and decide how to move forward. And for others in open or polyamorous relationships, what looks like cheating may not actually be; perhaps an on-set affair, for example, is conducted with the blessing of the star’s primary partner. Such relationships may attract censure from members of the public, including potential fans, agents, and studio officials, which can put couples in an awkward position; they may feel obligated to conceal the nature of their relationship, or to obscure the details in statements about the situation, to avoid attracting attention.

As the media rushes to judge those involved and people weigh in, the pressure only mounts, and that doesn’t really create optimal conditions for an honest, open discussion about cheating. And, of course, it creates an incentive to conceal internal struggles from a partner for as long as possible; rather than openly talking about a developing attraction and the emotions it’s bringing up, someone might struggle with it independently rather than with a partner’s support for fear of attracting public attention. If people need some time apart, for example, it’s going to cause speculation. And, of course, there’s a huge incentive to be even more stealthy than usual about cheating, both because of the higher risk of being caught because of public scrutiny, and out of fear of the results of that scrutiny.

We live in a culture where a lot is taken from celebrities. Some argue that they give a lot, and that they signed up for the deal, so now they have to take their lumps. The price of making a fortune as a film star, a musician, an athlete, should apparently be to have the details of your personal life constantly displayed for the public. And to be continuously accountable to the public for private matters. But relationship troubles are not something for public consumption, and celebrities shouldn’t have an obligation to go through a specific song and dance.

They’re human like everyone else, and some humans cheat. This is not to condone cheating or say it’s inevitable, but it is to say that it does happen, and it happens to lots of people, and it can be stressful and intense to deal with even when you don’t have the pressure of the public horning in on every moment of the situation. It’s difficult to function with photographers at the door under any circumstances, but especially these.

If the wronged party does anything other than throwing the cheater out, that person is weak, or caving, or pathetic. If the wrongdoer is anything but publicly immensely contrite and sorrowful, that person is appalling and insensitive. Meanwhile, the third party often gets off with nary a mention, no discussion of that’s person’s role in the development of attraction and subsequent illicit relationship. Naturally, of course, people also don’t talk about things like power differentials, which can have a huge impact. If a young film star sleeps with a director because she’s pressured to do so, the situation is much more complicated than ‘she cheated on her partner and she’s an evil slut.’ There’s something deeper going on there that should be addressed, rather than slut-shamed under the carpet.

Celebrities are people too, and they should have a reasonable expectation of privacy as well as the room they need to work out their own issues in a less charged environment than the tabloids.