A couple of weeks back, the chief of the Albuquerque Police Department took some flak for characterizing the extramarital affairs of department members as “nature at play.”
The department has had several of these adulterous relationships come to light after an officer was tried and acquitted of killing his wife. Levi Chavez might not have murdered his wife Tera, but he admitted cheating on her with multiple fellow officers.
The chief was already on his way out the door, having already given his resignation, but his remarks got under the skin of several city officials, who denounced him.
More Than Mere Ceremony
It’s possible that the chief had a point. I’ve worked in several diverse industries, and cops seem to play around more than co-workers I’ve seen in other organizations. I’m not sure why. I suppose it could be that cops tend to serve their careers during the peak of their reproductive years, and the job allows for more autonomy than most other lines of work. There is certainly camaraderie within the ranks, and this can lead to relationships that are more than collegial.
What has always bothered me about the relationships that violate marriage vows is the promise-breaking and duplicity involved. I don’t have the same confidence in a person who will cheat on their spouse as I have with one who is faithful.
With the exception of a few religious ceremonies (confirmations, bar and bat mitzvahs, christenings), marriage may be the biggest event we will ever experience.
You invite all your friends and relatives, assemble them in a place of worship, and have a clergyman preside while you promise, in front of everyone you know, that you will be faithful and true to this one person for the rest of your life. People congratulate you, they give you presents, and you generally celebrate with a nice vacation before starting your life together.
I can’t think of any other occasion to which we assign this level of gravity.
Fidelity Is a Test
The person who then abandons those promises and takes up with someone else without first going through the divorce process is breaking maybe the biggest and most public oath most of us will ever take. I don’t know what female cops talk about in the locker room, but I’ve heard my male colleagues brag about all the outside action they’re getting, while the little woman is none the wiser (or so they think, anyway).
I’ve tested this perception several times with an elaborate question:
“Tonight, you and I might respond to an alarm, and we’ll go inside to search the building. When you tell me you’ve checked a door, I’m likely going to believe you. I’m placing my life in your hands. Now, if the person who is arguably the most important individual in your life — someone you looked in the eye and promised to be faithful to, forsaking all others — can’t trust you, why should I? I’m just a guy you work with.”
Invariably, I was told this was two entirely different kinds of trust, and one had no effect on the other. I wasn’t married then, and they told me I would understand if I ever did get married.
A few years later I did marry another police officer, and we stayed together for 14 years — she died in 2006.
I kept my promise of fidelity to her during that time, and I’m reasonably confident she did the same for me. The experience hasn’t caused me to change my mind about the importance of keeping promises, no matter who you make them to.
I don’t want to have to consider whether I’m in the category of someone the other guy (or girl) has to keep a promise to. If you give your word, if you make a promise, you should be good for it.
“Nature at play” doesn’t enter into the equation.