I was halfway through a post about my dislike for rabbits when I decided to make some lunch. While eating I flipped through the December issue of Harper’s Bazaar, and read an excerpt from Alain de Botton’s new book, How to Talk More About Sex.
Clearly this is a much more interesting topic than rabbits.
The excerpt centers around adultery. Botton makes some valid points about marriage (and presumably long-term cohabiting couples as well) and sex. Basically he believes that to not view sex as a complicated act, that often muddles our minds and is the source for poor decisions, particularly in marriage, is strange. We are sexual beings, and the thought of straying will occur to anyone in a committed relationship, however briefly, at some point. He goes on to write that fidelity should be viewed as a true achievement, and not something to blow off as the norm.
I always have mixed feelings when reading about infidelity, which is probably natural for anyone in a monogamous relationship. I consider myself a logical person, and do believe there is truth to the idea we aren’t biologically set up for monogamy. Well, women are, at least from an evolutionary perspective. We are wired to find mates that are strong, so as to pass off that genetic material to offspring, and who can be good providers to said offspring. Men are biologically wired to pass on their genetic material as much as possible.
Before anyone gets their knickers in a knot, I have all sorts of clarifications, not the least of which is that we aren’t animals, and survival of the fittest went out the window a long time ago, and was more or less rendered obsolete with the advent of modern medicine. And I am fully aware monogamy is 1) not practiced in the majority of cultures in the world, and 2) in a number of countries, take France, for example, where people do commit to lifelong relationships to a single person, infidelity is not a deal breaker and is often accepted (that is an extreme generalization, but you get my drift). Furthermore, we are living in a society where women no longer need a provider, and have freedoms the likes of which our predecessors couldn’t have imagined. For this reason, many women don’t feel the need to tie their ship to one dock. And, for that matter, women cheat with great frequency too.
All this is part of living in ‘civilized’ society, I guess.
Logically I can accept the notion that monogamy is a societal norm and not necessarily the ideal. Emotionally, I say fuck that. I just so happen to live in a culture where monogamy is the norm. What other people do is their business and fine by me, but in my world, you don’t cheat. My husband feels the same way, it’d be a deal breaker for either one of us.
Anyway, de Botton’s excerpt made me think of a conversation I had with my husband a few days ago.
Several years back, a couple we knew divorced. The wife discovered her husband had a mistress (yes, it sounds old fashioned, but at the time he referred to the chick as ‘my mistress’. What an asshole), and that they had been carrying on for quite some time. It was not a pretty situation. At all. They split, she remarried, and so did he. He married his mistress.
I instantly dubbed him the cheater, and told my husband the guy was a complete tool. The Cheater was given permanent placement on the Do Not Associate List, not just by me, but other wives and girlfriends too. The mere mention of his name in conversation brought on the I Smell Something Disgusting face by all of us. The funny thing is, the cheated upon wasn’t a friend of mine, nor was she close to the other women. It was the idea that Cheat-y McFuckwad threw his nine year marriage down the drain, and she found out via text message.
Though I think all the guys were shocked too, they weren’t as disbelieving as the women. And after the initial details came out, eliciting a ‘what a dick’ from all the dudes, they lost interest. He was still their homie, only now they got shit for talking to him. You could see their eyes glaze over when the womenfolk dissed him.
At any rate, all this happened a few years ago, and I haven’t thought about The Cheater in forever. Until last week, when my husband worked with someone for a few days he hadn’t seen in a while. I met him years ago at a party thrown by Cheaty and his first wife (I met the mistress that night, I just didn’t know she was boinking the host. Neither did the hostess at the time). So I asked if the guy still spoke to The Cheater, to which my husband responded, “No, I think his wife put the kibosh on that.”
I had to laugh, mostly because that same, glazed over expression immediately clouded his face. I never really thought about how hard it was on the guys, who had to listen to their ladies bitch over an act that they didn’t commit.
I don’t know if The Cheater was really ousted from the group, or perhaps his mistress/wife didn’t feel comfortable getting the stink eye from a bunch of broads she didn’t know, and thus decided that they would make new friends. I also have no idea what happened in his first marriage that prompted him to cheat. Perhaps they had long-standing issues and he was simply unable to cope, and used his affair as an escape. Maybe it was nothing other than lack of impulse control. Or maybe his ‘mistress’ was his one true love.
Whatever the case, it wasn’t any of my business. I believe the reason for the negative reaction on the part of the various wives and girlfriends wasn’t because anyone was chummy with the cheated on woman so much as, “wow, I didn’t see that coming, I wonder who else cheats?” I don’t, however, think this is solely a female response. A few months back, my husband relayed a story to me about a male acquaintance in the midst of a divorce resulting from infidelity. Interestingly my husband’s response was far more incredulous over the whole thing than when his own friend cheated. I think the obvious reason is because it wasn’t the guy who was unfaithful, it was his wife.
Whew, complicated stuff.
Anyway, I like Botton’s idea that fidelity is something to be cherished as an accomplishment in a relationship rather than an expectation. It’s sort of like getting a gold star next to your name for perfect attendance. Sure, you’re supposed to go to school and all, but it’s nice to get a reward for the effort.