Adultery does happen. It always has and it always will. But I think we may have crossed a threshold.
While watching the president of the United States declare that we can legislate away hardship, during his joint-session of Congress health-care address, I was lured away from my hyper-blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking analysis by a commercial for ashleymadison.com.
To the soundtrack of a snoring woman in bed with a man, the announcer says: "Most of us can recover from a one-night stand with the wrong woman." The narrator continues: "But not when it's every night. For the rest of our lives."
The husband gets out of bed and heads, presumably, to the computer. We see a cartoonish wedding picture. We are made aware of what this restless spouse must be craving: an online dating site for those who are married, but itching for something more, with someone else.
"Life is short. Have an affair." is the motto for this no-frills facilitator. There's no need for confession or guilt. It's all straightforward and out in the open, at least to those in the know. And that's it: enticement, information and get your credit card ready.
The ad's commercial presence during the presidential address post-game commentary on MSNBC was jarring. Have 24 hours of Viagra and Cialis and KY ads made audiences of the talking-heads shows immune to noticing? Maybe they're a crowd that enjoys politics as sport ("Hardball"!) and views sex in the same terms: a biologically gratifying release without a greater context or purpose?
And in this fallen TV world, it's not that he's just not into his wife. It's equality, baby. Another ad on the same night featured an exaggerated boorish bore of a man and his wife in a restaurant on their anniversary. He takes a phone call. She is pleased to make eye contact with a leering rake at the bar. "When divorce isn't an option," is how Ashley Madison seeks to make this sale.
In both scenarios, any sense of shame was noticeably absent.
I asked the same question while reading the weddings section of the New York Times during Labor Day weekend. That week's story on a couple's road to wedded bliss was not one you'd expect to be on display: "There was a moment of connection, but it was so intense that we couldn't be friends," the featured bride told her husband. She and the man she married met on Broadway, playing the lovers Mimi and Rodolfo in "La Bohäme," who would eventually be torn apart, clearly unlike the couple showcased in the article.
And so they dated. They would spend two weeks there together in France. And then, upon her return from the continent, she left her husband for her newfound love. The "little church girl" recalls: "From the moment our eyes met through those two weeks of being in Paris and the pain of going through a divorce, I knew that I loved him."
I know nothing about this couple other than what the Times told us. I wish them well. But what about us? What does it say about us when such a prominent fixture of American life and mores would choose to feature such a story? And it's not just the old Gray Lady that's moved by adulterous connections.
Just days after the wedding feature, a story on ABCnews.com began with: "Don't let your spouse see this story." It was titled: "Shh! The Top 5 Hotels for Having an Affair," and explained, "These are hotels with thick walls, a discreet staff, a bit of romance and maybe even a heart-shaped Jacuzzi."
In her book, "The Abolition of Marriage," Maggie Gallagher, one of the most committed marriage-protection activists in the country, wrote: "Marriage, like a corporation or private property, is an institution that must be supported by law and culture if it is to exist at all... (T)o have the choice as individuals to marry we must first choose as a society to create marriage."
I attended a wedding at St. Patrick's Cathedral that same Labor Day weekend, one that didn't make any features sections. During the sermon, the rector implored those in attendance to be a support for the couple, because the newlyweds will have hardship ahead, as all couples do. (You actually can't legislate it away.) Marriage is hard. And so family and friends, who so often can help make or break a marriage, must be supportive.
But what about the culture? Will the culture make a positive contribution to the institution of marriage? Or will we forever hold our peace in the face of blatant offenses to all that we should hold dear?
There will be rude cell habits, and snoring or something equally or more annoying. There will be temptations, and sometimes a relationship won't be sustainable. But many times it will be--with some help. Marriage, born and nurtured by true love and responsibility can be the source of joy, life and a future generation that understands and honors the institution. We need to commit to it--and to be ashamed by blatant violations of it--for all our sakes, till death do us part.
Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online
She can be contacted at email@example.com.