The first part of Mary's story was uncomplicated. Her friend, a newly divorced man in his 30s, had met a woman and fallen madly in love with her within three weeks. The woman had fallen in love with him right back. They were together. They were happy.
The only catch? She was married.
To someone else.
Mary unleashed this narrative with the slight guilt of a married woman speaking favorably about cheating. She couldn't help but be excited for her friend, but at the same time, she couldn't bring herself to completely condone his relationship. Her final verdict, she said, was that she was happy he was so happy, and that in the end you can't deny love.
Mary's story isn't exactly new; people have been falling in love outside of their long-term relationships since the biblical days. And we all know that at least one person in this trope is in for a world of hurt at the end of it. But still, we can't fully condemn the situation. So what is it about these relationships that lets us ignore the pain they stand to cause? Why does illicit love, in some cases, trump existing commitment?
When we're young, lots of us cozy up to a belief in everlasting romance. We'll meet someone perfect, commit to them, and live happily ever after. But as we grow up and begin to see real relationships unfold in all their messy glory, as we see friends get divorced and become disillusioned with their spouses and we learn some harsh truths about love ourselves, we realize that vision we harbored was a bit flawed.
And it's not a bad realization to have. We're human, after all. We are messy. We want to be loved despite our shortcomings, and to love someone else despite theirs. In accepting a person's hot temper, their social awkwardness, their capacity for indecision, we chip away at the fantasy and are left with someone real.
But the truth is that no matter how realistic we become, there's part of us that hangs on to the idea that two people can still be drawn together by something undeniably cosmic. When we see it happen — even if one person involved is already involved elsewhere — it's like we're witnessing the intervention of fate into the life of someone we know. We may never see Moses on the Mount or the burning bush, but we can still catch a glimpse of something inexplicable.
And so, we condone it. These affairs represent what we want to believe about humanity and about life; that there's magic to it. That unexpected happiness can strike at any time, no matter the already existing circumstances.
And as for the poor person who gets left behind? Well, we hope that fate will intervene for them, too.