I've never cheated. Not in 29 years of marriage. Not before. Not after.
Never means never.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, actually. Would it really have been so bad to steal a smooch from Linda when we were 14 and found ourselves alone in her parents' basement? After all, I'd only been going out with Cathy for a couple weeks.
And who exactly would have gotten hurt had I copped a feel off of Lucy that time the gang spent a whole summer's day riding the Cyclone? Lucy was pals with my girlfriend Maria, whose parents wouldn't let her ride the subway out to Coney Island, but we both wanted me to make the move. I mean, the chick's hand was on my thigh before the roller coaster moved an inch along its track.
As I got older, the opportunities to stray from exclusive relations grew more intriguing. There was that time in the airport hotel when I was a senior in college. I'd just said a pretty tearful goodbye to my girlfriend Janice in her hometown Chicago. We'd fallen deeply in love a year earlier, and had managed to keep things going strong, even though I lived 800 miles away in New York. A stunningly beautiful blonde was seated next to me on the flight from O'Hare to Pittsburgh, and we chatted briefly when severe weather caused the plane to jolt so violently that it scared the crap out of us.
By the time we arrived in Pittsburgh, all the New York flights had been cancelled. The airline put everybody up in a hotel, including the blonde, who turned out to also be destined for JFK.
The first thing I did after settling into my room was call Janice and let her know what was what. Just as we had done back at O'Hare earlier in the day, the two of us wept before letting go of each other yet again.
Almost as if by design, there was a knock at the door just as soon as we hung up. It was the blonde. She'd changed into a tightly fitted white pullover blouse. Her hair was newly combed and down, not in a ponytail as it had been before. I caught a slight whiff of perfume, something I hadn't at all noticed on the plane. She looked even more desirable than when I first saw her.
"Join me for a drink?" she asked.
Long story short, I passed. Not easily, I'll admit. Hell, I still think about opportunities like this that I have let go by. But a pass is still a pass.
I was in love with another woman. More important, she trusted me to be a stand-up guy. That meant something to me. It still does. Somewhere along the line I got it into my head that being trusted was the thing that was most important to me. Yeah, even more than being loved. Certainly more than getting laid.
Hey, it takes all kinds.
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about this self discipline of mine. I don't entirely understand it. For one thing, I'm among the least disciplined men you will ever meet. I'm also a terrific liar. If anybody could cheat and get away with it, it would be me. Just ask my wife.
But I'm 57 years old and have never strayed outside a primary relationship, not even with an illicit kiss. I've been asked more than once why this is. My answer, however unsatisfying and simplistic, is always the same: I wouldn't want somebody to do it to me. Cheating is the ultimate disrespect. And in my book respect is pretty much the whole ball game. I'd sooner have my bank account completely drained than find out that my wife was with another man. It's that simple. For real.
Before you start sizing me for that new halo you saw on Amazon, know this: Sure, I love and am loyal to my wife. But in the daily if not hourly game of fantasizing about other women, I'm as much a hound dog as the next guy. I just don't act on it, that's all. Which makes me either a good guy or a coward, depending on your point of view.
Years ago my friend Richard, a psychologist by trade, accused me of having denied myself many of life's great pleasures, particularly those abundantly available to us in our youth. He said that, though he admired the loyalty I bring to relationships, he couldn't quite fathom the practical day-to-day workings of living such a disciplined life.
I told Richard something that I'd heard the late Yul Brenner once say. An interviewer had asked the enduringly bald actor why he wore the same black outfit every single day, causing him to look exactly the same at all times. "It simplifies my life," Brenner said, as I recall. "I don't need to make new decisions every day, or base decisions on outside circumstances or even my own mood.
"I enjoy that," he went on. "It's very peaceful."
I guess I'm with the bald guy.