Why Do We Place So Much Blame On "Homewreckers"?

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Editor's Note: This blog was written in partial response to The Real Scandal: Homewreckers Are NOT Heroines!, which has been featured on BlogHer. - Feminista Jones 

So let me lead with a confession, I am not a fan of the television show Scandal. I don't hate it, it's just...flat for me. I don't care about Fitz, I think Mellie could do better, and 99.9% of Olivia's choices in relationships perplex me. For a woman with amazing fashion sense, she has the worst taste in men. So does Mellie. I have a tendency to scroll past most dissections of the show, but sometimes one filters through and I am forced to pay attention to the rhetoric surrounding it.

Look, I get it, Olivia Pope is sleeping with a married man. And sure, we could make 9,577,597 arguments about her morality since she knows he's married and she knows his wife. If we're going to get into that conversation, though, we'd have to talk about what Mellie knows and why she has gone past tolerating it and into encouraging it. Frankly, that's where things get too messy for any kind of black and white pronunciations about morality.

 


Image: Katherine McAdoo via Flickr

Marriage is a tricky business on its best day. Sometimes couples make bargains (spoken and unspoken) that keep them together for reasons that have very little to do with love. When we talk about the vows that were made, it's easy to think that other people will honor them. To be completely honest, the onus to respect those vows is on the people who made them. The "homewrecker" myth (usually aimed at women) hinges on the idea that people can be led astray. It ties right into the ideas that men can't control themselves, so women have to be the guiding force and that they can be tricked into cheating. It's an easy way to let the person you're married to off the hook, and gives you both someone else to blame instead of having to do the hard, messy work of facing what went wrong inside of your relationship. Fortunately, most relationships aren't as extreme as what is being depicted in Scandal, but Mellie's reaction to Olivia is a prime example of the deals some couples make for reasons that have little to do with love.

I've been the "other woman". On one hand, he lied to me about his situation. On the other? I knew him, not her, and I had no reason to doubt his story. We got married, he cheated on me like he did on his first wife, and I ended the relationship. Sure, I could have gotten mad at the women he was involved with, but I'm almost 100% certain that even if they knew I existed, they didn't know the truth about our interpersonal dynamics. Truth be told, I barely knew what was going on. I could blame him for our problems (he certainly does carry his fair share of the weight), but long before he started cheating, we were on the road to divorce. The lack of fidelity was the symptom, not the problem. So-called "homewreckers" aren't stealing in months before the affair to cause the financial stresses that are among the most common the causes of divorce. They aren't the ones sparking those fights over chores, childcare, or your mother in law's visit that will not end.

If you're feeling neglected, unappreciated, or simply uninterested in the relationship, that's a problem. If you're feeling overworked, unloved, or too tired to try? That's a problem too. Address it and your partner's issues if you can. The blame for infidelity shouldn't be trickling down to the “homewrecker” or even to the person who didn't cheat. Relationship breakdowns occur over time, and while some people can find a way through infidelity, the reality is that the person who chooses to cheat is choosing to take the risk that cheating could end the marriage. The only "homewreckers" in these situations are the people already in the home. Yes, it's scary to be so angry with someone you love, with someone who promised to love you and be faithful to you. Yes, it probably it is easier to focus on the outsider, but that's not productive or healthy. Most importantly, it's utterly useless for everyone involved.

Does that mean that we should run out and ignore that the person we like so much is in a relationship if they tell us about it? Absolutely not. I should have asked more questions and I definitely wish the women that followed me could have avoided my mistake. They didn't break up a happy home,  though; they were just collateral damage of an unhappy one. Self-preservation is something I advocate to anyone who is dating. Be honest with yourself and with potential partners, and maybe you can avoid making the same mistake I did. Olivia, Mellie, and Fitz are just characters in a fictional story, and while they surely can be fun to watch, you don't really want to experience what they do. Want to avoid having your home wrecked? Focus on patching those cracks that can develop when you aren't paying attention.

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