The Elusive Mr. Right

Elisa Benson

From the latest Brangelina scandal to Match Point to Sienna and Jude to, most convincingly, my friends who returned from winter break with their own guilty confessions, it’s as if cheating has surpassed pregnancy as the hippest way to make monogamy less monotonous. Maybe the steady stream of gossip is flooding my judgment, but when my buds approached me for advice – mostly the inevitable “Do I tell him?” conflict – I found my own formerly firm answers suddenly inadequate and blindingly black-and-white.

I blame this celeb obsession and consequent moral slide on Manhattan. A Buckeye State native, I spent January living out of my suitcase and sleeping on friends’ couches while interning at a tween entertainment mag. It was actually my job to read and Us Weekly religiously, hence the newfound gossip addiction. It doesn’t help that you can find all six degrees of Lindsay Lohan in one borough and everyone has a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who saw her with that Sharpie.

It was my first visit to The City and I was worried – not because of the news reports of muggings and murders and general urban mayhem I’d heard in my mother’s repeated warnings – but because I thought it might be less breathlessly exciting, less city-never-sleeps and center-of-the-universe, less magical, than I had expected. When you’ve never been to New York it takes on this kind of mystic status fueled by songs, sitcoms and Hollywood movie sets. I’d built it up one way in my mind. I worried about it feeling differently in real life.

And in real life, that’s where cheating gets complicated. I used to believe it was impossible to cheat on someone you love, like being in a committed relationship automatically provided you infallible willpower. But conversations with friends have made me realize that opinion is just as idealistic as notions of New York based on Sex and the City. However unscripted it sounds, attractions to someone besides your significant other can and do happen, often independently of how you feel about your partner. So are you emotionally or morally obligated to cheat and tell?

It depends – on the couple, the relationship, the likelihood it will happen again, and the lesson you learned the morning after. Peel off another layer, and suddenly a serious relationship at 18 or 19 or 22 feels tricky, too: can something be wrong for you and right at the same time? Can you love the security, the person, but feel simultaneously restless?

I spent part of my Manhattan adventure with a friend who lives on the 28th floor of an upper east side apartment with a panoramic view of city streets and skyscrapers, bridge lined rivers, and Yankee Stadium way off in the distance. From that vantage point, everything glitters. It feels familiar, like it’s some version of the same postcard that’s showed up anywhere for most of my life, and foreign, because I’ve never seen it like this. I feel in the middle of everything and outside of it all, both larger than life and hopelessly tiny. This faraway chimney keeps blowing out exhaust and the smoke is a dragon, a woman knitting, an oversized bunny rabbit, changing like the answers, the resolutions, the way we look.