If you stand back from it, far away from the celebrity nonsense, the Kabbalah confusion, and the tabloid tsunami, there is something almost romantic, old-fashioned even, about it.
An affair of the heart, that is, which is what Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez and pop queen Madonna have reportedly been carrying on of late.
That suspicion, coupled with other marital transgressions by Rodriguez, including being photographed in a bar with a buxom blonde who was not his wife, prompted Cynthia Rodriguez to file for divorce on Monday, after six years and two young daughters.
In the subsequent media maelstrom -- the cheeky New York press dubbed him "Stray-Rod" -- and following the obligatory denials, there comes word from Cynthia's camp that the rumoured relationship between her $300-million third baseman and the Material Girl hasn't necessarily involved sex.
Madonna, according to Mrs. Rodriguez, committed an even more egregious sin -- she stole her husband's heart.
And that, apparently, was the last straw.
Mrs. Rodriguez's attorney, Earle Lilly, told People magazine: "The correct analysis is a relationship. Some people categorize an affair as something as sexual infidelity. We're not claiming that.
"It's an affair of the heart."
Cynthia's divorce petition also uses words like "emotional abandonment" and states: "The marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken because of the husband's extramarital affairs and other marital misconduct."
Whether any of this is true, and whether you consider lust as grounds for divorce (in which case, no one would be married, least of all Jimmy Carter, who once said he "committed adultery in my heart many times"), there is something far more captivating about the whole mess.
It's the resurrection of an emotional state so quaint, so arcane, that it would have slipped under the radar had we not been living in a time when sex is both bait and barter, when a vow of fidelity at the altar is but another promise to be broken, and when one of the respondents in this "affair" has made a $600-million fortune selling her sexuality as a cultural commodity to the masses.
We live in a world where sex, from porn to the Pussycat Dolls, can be pursued and purchased around ever corner. If we want sex, we go out and get it, single or married, betrayal be damned, and no one much bats an eye.
"An affair of the heart" trips us up because it speaks to a time long past when society frowned upon acting on sexual impulse, when married men and women could look but could not touch, so extreme were the social consequences.
Just ask Hester Prynne, the 17th-century protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the title referring to the letter A branded on Prynne's bosom as a public shaming after she gave birth following an adulterous relationship.
Just ask Elizabeth Smart, the Canadian author of the celebrated By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, her wrenching, lovestruck, guilt-ridden 1945 paean to married British poet George Barker.
So to have an affair of the heart, to voluntarily exercise restraint while the heart begs otherwise, in this day and age, now that's something, for it means to live only for the promise of the touch, the hint of the kiss, the danger of the inviolate, and to feel words we don't much use any more, like unrequited and pining and aching and yearning.
It's hard to imagine a situation so ironic that it could equate chastity with Madonna, but there is something slightly endearing about the notion that the ball-busting entertainer, on her second marriage, mother of children by different fathers, author of the graphic coffee table book, Sex, and coquettish performer who once hung in crucifixion onstage, might actually respect her marriage vows to Guy Ritchie, turn off her renowned sexual appetite and turn on her heart light instead.
Maybe she's on to something, something about the purity of self-respect vanquishing the march of pheramones.
It might even explain the growing trend among teenagers of certain religious faiths to join virginity pledge campaigns, believing that sexual abstinence before marriage leads to holy harmony.
Could it be that the 49-year-old singer, whose discography has gone from Like A Virgin to Erotica, and the 32-year-old Yankee infidel with the cheatin' heart, are reclaiming the old standard of sexual and marital propriety?
That's rather like trying to determine if an affair of the heart trumps a real affair or, put another way, whether fantasy outblisses reality.
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