Labels and Real Life

I was reading the other day and saw it posited that labels were unhealthy and harmful. We shouldn’t label people, so the theory goes, because it limits them. They are essentially reduced to that label. People especially don’t like the label, “cheater.” Some feel it diminishes that person, as though that’s all they are. More importantly, how can you effectively reconcile if you label your spouse that way?

Yes, because that’s the overall goal. We all want to get back together with that dreamboat.

Aren’t they a cheater, though? It seems to me that if they cheat on you, then they’re a cheater. You can call this acts of exuberant defiance if it makes you happy, but it’s just playing with words. Would it be easier if they were called adulterers? They committed adultery, therefore, they are adulterers. Is that too harsh as well? Do we pussy foot around with other labels?

If someone asked you to describe Michael Phelps you would probably say something along the lines of, “He’s a swimmer,” or, “He’s an Olympic athlete.” Is he more than that? I’m sure he is. But that’s what he’s predominantly known for.

If you saw your co-worker, Larry, beat the crap out of his wife would you call him a wife beater or an abuser, or would you focus instead on his other qualities? Sure, ol’ Larry beats his wife but I wouldn’t call him a wife beater. He is one hell of a dart thrower and he really knows his way around a grill. Let’s not focus on the negative.

Is “cheater” the only label that is detested? Is it okay to label a person who likes to have sex with little kids a pedophile? If someone breaks into your home and robs you can we label that person a thief? How about murderer? Rapist? Drunk driver? Child abuser? Embezzler?

Are all of those labels bad? Should we be looking beyond the rudimentary surface? Or do labels sometimes tell us exactly what we need to know?

I’ve told this story before. Shortly before I got married, way back in 1994, my future mother-in-law was not loving her job. She decided that she was going to pull out her retirement and hand it over to her brother-in-law and they were going to go into business together.

People begged her to reconsider. They pointed out that her brother-in-law had been convicted for embezzlement. They didn’t trust him. They didn’t feel this was a wise move.

Now, maybe others would say, “Hey, give the guy a chance.” It’s not like once an embezzler, always an embezzler, right?

In this situation you would be wrong. She handed him her retirement money. He spent it while talking up their business and telling her how much progress was being made. Once the money was gone he informed her that they didn’t have any clients and he was getting a job; she should do the same. My former in-laws never recovered financially and they lost pretty much everything.

I’m sure some people would say that he wasn’t only an embezzler. I’d agree with that. I’d say he was a damn fine con artist as well. Certainly we are given the message that the cheater is more than just a cheater. How often are we admonished to not judge a relationship on one little, tiny mistake such as infidelity? That person you are harshly labeling a cheater is an onion. There are layers and layers to this person’s personality. He or she is so much more than just a cheater and you are being unduly harsh and unfair to only concentrate on that.

Funny follow up to the in-law story… Onion Boy ended up in jail. Again! If memory serves me correctly it had something to do with cars he was selling. I don’t remember if he was the actual salesman, or if he was a middle man, selling cars to dealerships. He may have been messing with the VIN numbers or something like that. Regardless, what he was doing was illegal and he was shady as fuck. Go right ahead and tell yourself he was much more than a guy who enjoyed fleecing people out of their money. He probably would have taken you to the cleaners with your Pollyanna attitude.

If you want to argue that a person is more than a label, especially if that label is “cheater”, that’s fine. I’m sure if you’re giving a person who betrayed you another chance there has to be something good about that person. I’m not saying they don’t have other delightful qualities. I would also never dream of telling someone that the “cheater” label is the most important thing about their spouse, or that that’s the only thing they should focus on. You can dress it up any way you want. You can ignore the behavior. You can convince yourself it was out of character or born out of toxic shame. You can believe with all your heart and soul that this “one” act is not the sum of who they are. That’s all fine. Not that you need my permission. That doesn’t mean the label isn’t accurate. It may not tell the whole story the way you’d like it told, or the way they’d like it told, but it tells a story. The reality is it did happen. The cheater may not be just a cheater, only a cheater, but they are indeed a cheater. Just like regardless of whatever good qualities he may have had Onion Boy was an embezzler, a thief, and a con artist.

5 thoughts on “Labels and Real Life

  1. I’m going to land on the side of “if they earned the label, they get to keep it”

    Don’t want to be labelled a cheater, embezzler, thief or con-artist? Don’t commit the act! Pretty damned simple.

    Liked by 2 people

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