Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Marriage, MySpace, & the Ethical Dilemmas Posed by the Web

My latest random message on MySpace was entitled “Two Questions” and the body contained the following:

1) do you like married men?
2) are you available?
Yes, I am in the Macon area.

Hmm. Sounds like a real winner. Sure, this guy is clearly doing the wrong thing. I, of course, will not respond.

I think MySpace is super cheesy (especially all the MySpace editing), but as a result of MySpace, I’m having lunch with one of my best friends from high school this weekend; I haven’t seen or talked to her in over five years and she lives in Utah. That’s fun.

Initially when I joined MySpace, I just assumed it was something used by single people under 30. In fact, I felt a bit ridiculous joining it and Facebook. But as I’ve played around on MySpace, I’ve come to find that there are lots of married people who participate. And some are obviously looking to cheat on their spouses. What interests me is the blurry area. For example, is it wrong for a married man to send messages to a woman he doesn’t know and will never meet?

I recently faced a moral dilemma myself. Although I ultimately handled it in what I think was the right way, I’m not sure that initially I did so. Here is a brief summary of events: I dated a guy (we’ll call him Brian) for about four and half years when I was in high school and college. We haven’t seen each other since around January of 1998, and the last time we talked was about six years ago.

Fast forward to the present: Brian googled me, finding my work e-mail address. I was very excited to hear from him and wrote him back. He is happily married and is now a father! I have loved hearing about how successful he is and how things have really come together for him. I also wanted to share with him the ways my life has changed—especially why my life has changed since he and I were both agnostic when we dated.

While I immediately shared this correspondence with Donatello and even forwarded several of the e-mails to him, I wondered if Brian did the same with his wife. Was it my place to ask him? I deliberated about this a lot as I didn’t think it was right for him to e-mail me if his wife did not know about it. But was it right for me to be the moral police for his marriage? Should I even assume that he would fail to mention our correspondence to his wife? Plus I knew that my intentions were nothing more than to catch up, and selfishly I wanted to be able to do that. So I put it out of my mind briefly until Brian actually brought it up in his last e-mail. Brian just wanted me to know that he did not have any agenda in contacting me and that he had no regrets over where life had taken him. He affirmed that a friendship was his only interest, but that his wife did not know about our e-mailing and that he would probably keep it that way for now as she would not understand. Funny but in the next sentence he wrote “Please don’t think I’m the type of husband that hides things from his wife because I’m not!”

Although I didn’t want to do so, I wrote Brian back and explained that his marriage was more important and to be cherished more than any friendship he and I had or might develop. I explained that I wasn’t friends with married men whose wives were unaware of our friendship. I also plugged an awesome church near where they live….It was, however, tempting to cling to the idea that I was not (technically) doing anything wrong since I wasn’t married, and my intentions were “pure.” But I’m a big fan of the Golden Rule, and I was reminded of the verse that instructs us not to cause others to stumble.

Anyway, my point is that the Internet makes it so much easier to cross blurry lines….IMing people who you would never pick up the phone and call, e-mailing people you don’t really know, and getting in touch with people with whom you shouldn’t (at least without your spouse’s express permission and knowledge). As a person who has lots of friends of the opposite sex, I’m not sure what exact parameters a married couple should have (I’m sure it’s not easy), but it’s safe to say that if you would not be comfortable bccing your spouse on your correspondence, it’s probably not OK. Any thoughts?


gus said...

A nice train of thoughts!!Transparency in relationships is the best path to follow along with some good faith :)

kimberly said...

This is definitely something that I struggle with too. I try to think about what kind of correspondence I would be comfortable with my (hypothetical) husband having with some other girl(s). It's a tough subject. As much as it sucks for me and my married guy friends, I wouldn't want my husband to have close girl friends besides me. Is that being jealous and possessive? I don't know. I do have married friends who are guys, but I try as much as possible to be friends with their wives too and I would feel wierd being friends with a guy if his wife didn't know or wasn't also my friend.

spam_price said...

As a married man, who has MySpace, I thought I’d weigh in on this discussion. Ally you pose some very interesting thoughts here about the protection of our hearts, our marriages and our relationship with God. How blurry do we allow those lines to get – intentionally or not?

I am an outgoing and friendly person who loves meeting new people from all walks of life. Consequently that means I have a lot of acquaintances and friends that I have developed over the years both male and female. My wife and I will often run into people that I know while we are out and about. Fortunately she is not a jealous woman and I am not a foolish enough man to jeopardize our marriage. I tell her often of conversations that I have with the various people in my life and she is always interested to hear more about these people that I know (whether she knows them or not).

All that to say, that there are definitely some times when I realize my “friendliness” can have the appearance of “flirtiness”. This is where I need to guard my heart and remind myself of the wonderful woman I am married to and the connection we have together based on our mutual love of Jesus Christ. There is no deeper relationship in my life.

I desire real authentic relationships with everyone I meet – I don’t do superficial very well. But, as I’ve told my wife, she is the only one that I couldn’t live without and that penetrates my heart to depths no one will ever enter. That’s exactly why my profile pictures on MySpace or whatever site always have my beautiful wife by my side. This is so it will always be clear that I would never ask the “Two Questions”.

Our parameters are pretty simple – honesty and accountability. We are always honest with one another and not afraid to hold each other accountable if we believe a line has been blurred. These will always protect our hearts, our marriage and our relationship with God.

Ally said...

I really enjoy hearing other people's perspective on this. I'm a lot like you Jeff in that I like authentic relationships and don't care for surface-y type relationships. And I can't imagine abandoning my friendships with guy friends I've had for years simply because they get married--but I do also see it as gaining a friend (their wife), and I can understand that some of our outings might need to change. And fortunately I always date guys who are not the jealous type, but I'm sure marriage is different than dating and I think a different level of protection and care needs to exist.

I guess every couple has to decide for themselves and that honesty, transparency, and accountability need to be a part of that.

Aaron said...

I believe that MySpace just facilitates a more "target rich" environment for those who would already practice infidelity. (Notice the clever use of a Top Gun quote.)

I bore easily of the MySpace friend invites I get from random girls who have pictures on another webpage they can't share on MySpace.

However, when friend-girls share with me some of the messages they receive, I'm absolutely astonished. One such friend recently made her profile private. Within hours, she had no less than four messages from guys that she didn't know inquiring as to why she did. Wow.

The common theme is, on the Internet, anyone can be whomever they wish to be and hide behind a veil of anonyminity. Some people more. Some people less. I like to equate it to being drunk. Nobody does anything drunk that they wouldn't otherwise do sober. Like being drunk, the Internet removes those prohibitions.