By now, you’ve likely heard of the cheating scandal that has taken over the internet in recent weeks. If not, here’s a brief rundown: a founding member of the YouTube influencer group—The Try Guys—was exposed for cheating on his wife with an employee. This exposé began as a rumor in late September, sparked by a covert video of the aforementioned member and his employee kissing and dancing in a New York bar. The Try Guys’ large fanbase took to Twitter and Reddit in investigative pursuits, spreading speculation and suspicion worldwide until the company released an official statement revealing that the rumors were indeed true and that the guilty member had been released from the group.
Kelsey Colburn, who works in Hope College’s Office of Equity and Compliance as a victim advocate and prevention educator, makes it clear that names and prying details are not important in this scenario. “It’s entirely true that none of us know these people—the Try Guys or their partners,” she said, pointing to the harmful and unhealthy obsession that can occur with parasocial interactions such as these. “There are things that we can take away from [this situation] and learn from in a broad and general sense, but assuming we know the intricacies of their relationships or that we even ought to is something that we should be careful about.”
Instead, noted Colburn, “maybe what we should be doing is taking away one or two lessons from this scandal and figuring out how to apply those lessons in our own world.” To learn from this unfortunate situation respectfully and with an intention for growth, she explained that respectful communication about needs and desires within our own relationships is vital. When discussing romantic relationships, lies and cheating, Colburn noted that “there is often a lot of buried shame attached to those situations. I really want to caveat that this depends on the person, the relationship and the situation because there are no broad strokes when it comes to relationships, but healthy relationships should be free of shame.” Holding open communication and honesty up as goals within relationships is central to maintaining healthy discourse and love.
Thinking specifically about online discourse, she warns us to be careful about brands and personas. “Branding yourself as the ‘good guy’ will inevitably lead to failure because no one’s perfect. And also to me, [this Try Guy member’s attitude] exudes that he is somehow ‘above patriarchy,’ when everybody is steeped in it, and we all have something to continually learn and grow into. I think we need to be careful with those labels. We need a little more humility and honesty.”
Colburn points to the Saturday Night Live (SNL) sketch, which poked fun at the Try Guys’ video statement about the situation, as an example of unhelpful and harmful online behavior. The skit featured SNL members Bowen Yang, Mikey Day and Andrew Dismukes as the three remaining members of the Try Guys, satirically dramatizing their response by depicting the past two weeks as the “fight of their lives” and stating that “due to the trauma we are facing, our editors are editing around the clock to remove [this member] from past Try Guys content. This is the battle of our lives.” The skit was also particularly minimizing in its approach to consent within the workplace and the real lives that have been impacted. “So the full story is that your friend had a side chick and you fired him?” asks a news anchor in the skit, adding fuel to the misinterpretation of the whole picture.
“What was unfortunate [about the skit] was that it really missed the two people who were most impacted by what happened—his wife, the woman he was with… it demolished the fact that this is not something that you want to see in a workplace atmosphere,” said Colburn. When it comes to our own campus, she wants to ensure that “people don’t think that an imbalance of power in relationships is okay to hide. It’s not okay to hide. It is something that should be talked about and discussed openly. I also don’t want people to diminish the impact of the harm that [power imbalances] can cause and the pain for all of the people involved.” Workplace relationships or relationships within similar institutions need to be central in discussions of power and hierarchical environments. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) explains consent in this context: “If someone agrees to an activity under the pressure of intimidation or threat, that isn’t considered consent because it was not given freely. Unequal power dynamics, such as engaging in sexual activity with an employee or student, also mean that consent cannot be freely given.”
With this in mind, Colburn asserts that even if the Try Guys were taking themselves too seriously in their statement video, “[the SNL skit] is not how we should be talking about power dynamics or extramarital relationships.”
So what can we— as Hope College students, staff, faculty and community members— do to prevent such harmful outcomes? According to Colburn, it all ties back again to communication. “One of the reasons why healthy communication can fail is fear: fear of what the other person might say, fear of conflict, fear of being hurt. Learning to trust that the other person in a healthy relationship has your best interest at heart and remaining curious about where they’re coming from is a good place to start,” she said. “Try to lower defensiveness as much as possible and replace it with curiosity.”
If you have any questions about how to do so or want to contact the Equity & Compliance team about any related issues, you can contact Kelsey Colburn directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to any of the staff through the Equity & Compliance website.