It’s time to change the way we talk about affairs — and Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” is a powerful first step
“Are you cheating on me?” Beyoncé asks in her visual album “Lemonade,” which premiered last weekend on HBO. She throws open a door, and water gushes forth—an apt metaphor for the flood of emotions that her question, and its implied answer, unleashes.
As a couples therapist, I’ve sat with hundreds of women, and men, in the turbulent aftermath of infidelity. For the past decade, I’ve been traveling the globe listening to tales of betrayal from every side. What struck me about Beyoncé’s album was both the universality of its themes and the unusual way in which it presented them. Whether autobiography or simply art, her multimedia treatise on unfaithful love represents a refreshing break with this country’s accepted narratives on the topic.
In the American backyard, adultery is sold with a mixture of condemnation and titillation. Magazine covers peddle smut while preaching sanctimony. While our society has become sexually open to the point of overflowing, when it comes to infidelity even the most liberal minds can remain intransigent. We may not be able to stop the fact that it happens, but we can all agree that it shouldn’t.
Another thing most Americans seem to agree on is that infidelity is among the worst things that can happen to a couple. The dialogue here is framed in terms borrowed from trauma, crime and religion: victims and perpetrators; injured parties and infidels; confession, repentance and redemption. As a European, I can testify that in other cultures, the betrayal is no less painful, but the response is more philosophical and pragmatic. Americans do not cheat any less than the supposedly lascivious French; they just feel more guilty about it, because the experience here is framed in moral terms.