The clock read 2:40 a.m. A 54-year-old man with perfectly coiffed hair slipped quietly out of a Beverly Hills hotel room. He jumped on an elevator for a ride down to the ground floor. When the doors sprung open he was shocked to find several National Enquirer reporters waiting to confront him.
His face reportedly turned white with his eyes widening. This man, who has mastered the art of political debates and has run the gauntlet of several national campaigns, nonetheless looked like a deer caught in headlights. Trying to escape the reporters, he ran. He ducked into a hotel men's room. Soon the crowd grew beyond reporters. It took hotel security to break up the late-night crowd outside the toilet.
The ensuing headlines trumpeted Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards' rendezvous with his mistress. It made news only because he is a well-known public figure, but sadly, infidelity takes a toll in the lives of millions of lesser known couples.
According to polling by the Associated Press, 22 percent of married men and 14 percent of the married women in the America have had "an adulterous affair." Put another way, that is 19 million men and 12 million women who are married and have committed adultery.
Edwards' exposure by journalists doesn't make him a victim as some pundits have argued; the real victims are his wife Elizabeth and their children. Adultery hurts families. They feel betrayed. Trust is destroyed. Family stability and lives are shaken, not to mention the baby conceived as a result of the Edwards affair.
A common belief today is that infidelity is strictly an individual's own business. But in reality, the damage spreads and severely harms the innocent.
Last October, when the story of Edwards' affair broke, he denied it. Yet he continued to see his mistress. To make matters worse, his wife Elizabeth is suffering from cancer. She heroically encouraged him to run for president despite her illness. She demonstrated that her vows "to love and cherish" had deep meaning by her selfless actions.
In his book "Broken Hearth," Bill Bennett writes about the moral collapse of the American family. "The family is already reeling from the effects of the sexual revolution," he says, "which replaced the traditional marriage ethic with a code that has sought to free both marriage and human sexuality itself from restraint and commitment. We have reaped the consequences in promiscuity, adultery, cohabitation, divorce, and out-of-wedlock births."
In the 1970s, Bennett said "experts" of the era promoted the idea that "husbands and wives needed to respect each other's need for individuality, 'self-awareness,' and 'personal growth.'" Couples were told to "get in touch" with their own feelings by "rejecting such rigidly defined social roles as 'husband' and 'wife.'" Bestselling books on "open marriage" and other "new forms of relationships" were sold to the American public. Although the concept of an "open marriage" and the like were not adopted by most people, Bennett says "there can be no question that the radicalizing talk had an effect, fracturing the lens through which many people viewed commitment, marriage, or parental authority."
"Adultery is about broken promises," says Miami-based Pastor Rich Wilkerson. "Every day, millions of men and women break their marriage vows -- to their spouses, their children, and even worse, to God."
At weddings, couples promise and commit to love, cherish, honor, in sickness and in health, to forsake all others .till death do us part.
Recently, messages to the contrary repeatedly tell people "you deserve to be happy" and "it's all about you" and we are collectively taught to selfishly think of only of ourselves.
In July 2000, when the story of mother and married actress Meg Ryan's affair with actor Russell Crowe hit magazine racks, Ryan's mother, Susan Jordan, commented. Although her daughter's image as America's sweetheart "may never recover," Jordan said, at least she [Meg Ryan] was "being honest" about her feelings. "I think Russell is exciting and is giving her something that was clearly lacking in her marriage." Ryan's husband divorced her and six months later Crowe dumped the actress. Her career and life have never been the same.
Adulterers place their own "needs" and desires above those of their families. The consequences of infidelity spread like wildfire, burning all those directly and indirectly involved. And it scorches society.
Of course, most who commit adultery don't have journalists lying in wait to catch them and reveal their infidelity to the world. But even if they are never caught, they are still hurting spouses and children just the same.
In this case of infidelity, John Edwards can kiss good-bye his aspirations of becoming Obama's vice president.