Lay off Justin Timberlake, his apology was more than acceptable – but our misdirected outrage towards cheating isn’t

Shappi Khorsandi
(L-R) Jessica Biel and husband Justin Timberlake at the 2018 Emmy Awards: AFP/Getty

We have the mother of all elections coming up next week and in these divisive times, who doesn’t enjoy a diversion we can all pile into on social media?

For a tantalising moment, Wagatha Christie united the nation. Leavers and Remainers came together as one as we rubbernecked the lives of two women whose life-choices did not affect us. This week, we’ve had Nish Kumar splashed all over the news for not connecting with an audience.

Gleeful right-wing goons crowed on the internet, imagining that this in any way was a comment on his talent or would impede his career. Of course, it wasn’t and it won’t. What happened to Nish is a hazard of our trade. Every comedian worth their salt has a bruising story of boos and missiles to tell.

They are by far the most fun tales to recount at get-togethers. Most recently, Twitter’s wrath has crashed down on Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby because, bless them, they are not Panorama journalists and really should have had producers screaming in their earpiece “SWERVE THE SELFIE! KICK HIM IN THE NUTS, DO WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO BUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T TAKE A SELFIE WITH A MAN WHO SAYS ‘PICCANINNIES’ TO DESCRIBE BLACK PEOPLE!!!”

Personally, when it comes to moralising over other people’s actions, I prefer to keep within affairs of the heart. This week, the earth-shattering story broke that Justin Timberlake has publicly apologised to his wife Jessica Biel, for holding his co-star Alisha Wainwright’s hand while allegedly off his face at a party.

This man is married, and this was a hand. Such was the condemnation by strangers on the internet, outraged by the fact that someone they didn’t know acted in a way they didn’t like, that he was compelled to write a note on his Instagram page, saying soz for his “lapse in judgement”. Phew. At least he has had the decency to apologise publicly for behaviour which affects no one else on earth other than his wife and his co-star.

The outrage online was immense. In these pile-ons about infidelity, it’s mostly those who are so young they still have one foot in Disney endings, or those who think just because they can resist the clumsy advances of the bloke in accounts who is rambunctious after a drink, anyone else who is not perfect should be relentlessly shunned and shamed online.

Fidelity can be a challenge when you’re constantly on the road. You don’t have to be a Hollywood star; any kind of job where you are away from home a great deal, and work really closely with other people, can make it tricky and frankly, none of us are infallible.

An ex of mine was a comedian, always away and incredibly popular with women. His way of remaining faithful was never to stay for a post-show drink. He’d come off stage, grab his coat and leave immediately, calling me on the way to his hotel. He was realistic and honest and boy, I appreciated it.

I stepped into a party at the Edinburgh festival at 1am one night, and a famous comedian was leaving in a hurry and he said as he rushed past in a panic, “I have to go before I cheat on my wife!” and ran to hail a cab. Not boozing near people you find attractive when you’re filled with a mixture of loneliness and adrenaline is very sensible if you don’t want to cheat. Timberlake’s “lapse of judgement” wasn’t just holding her hand, it was not dashing home with a good book as soon as he could.

The hate and anger directed at Timberlake’s misheld hand comes from a terror people have of being cheated on. It is undoubtedly a deeply painful experience. It’s happened to me and it wrecked my self-esteem and ability to trust for a long time. But men are pilloried for cheating far more mercilessly than women, and online pile-ons can have catastrophic effects on their mental health, not to mention their career.

Some might read that and scoff “well they deserve it!” No. No they don’t. Our mistakes are not the sum total of who we are.

I stuck up for a friend in such a pile-on once, then the abuse towards ME got so bad, I had the leave Twitter for an entire morning (can you imagine!).

“YOU ARE NORMALISING INFIDELITY” screamed one young person who had clearly never watched Eastenders or read Jackie Collins.

Infidelity is the worst sort of lying. It’s not the illicit flesh on flesh that I find maddening, it’s being hoodwinked and your trust betrayed. If you’re honest with people, you give them choices. If you can be honest with your partner and say “I love you but I have an overwhelming desire to bonk someone else”, I mean, that still sucks, but you’d be respecting their right to have a choice of staying with you or not. Not everyone finds fidelity easy but that is so morally frowned upon that it makes it hard to be honest and work through it.

For some, cheating means it’s game over; for others, it might not be. I know couples in marriages with children with all the stress life brings and all the layers of complications we are made of, and one of them has cheated and they have moved heaven and earth to move through it and past it. Witnessing the strength, love and compassion this takes is truly awesome.

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Justin Timberlake apologises to Jessica Biel over hand holding photo