Infidelity

Here’s the archive of the “Infidelity” discussion from the old Salon blog. It includes some side discussions of Fiona’s Story: A Tale of Online Love, and the relationship of Hillary Clinton to her cheating husband. There are also a few overtly political exchanges which spilled over from a commenter’s link to me. I understand that the invective (“how’d you get to be such a dumb cunt,” etc.) isn’t relevant to our larger discussion, and the burst of conversation (such as it is) refers to so much that is so far past that it’s…well…boring, to be perfectly frank. But I thought I’d leave it in anyway, partly as an illustration of the fear-fury and other defensive mechanisms that tend to arise when people start to talk about infidelity.

As always, skip what doesn’t interest or apply to you, and use what you can.

June 2

A few years after we overcame our sexual problems, my husband told me that from the moment we first started having trouble with each other, he was sure the reason I wasn’t interested in having sex with him was because I was having sex with someone else.

I almost had to laugh. When, exactly, did he think I would have had any TIME for a tryst? I was deep into my Superwoman phase in that era, trying to excuse myself for my lack sexual enthusiasm by being as perfect as possible in every other respect. I was working full time (and then some, given various alerts and readiness exercises) and almost single-handedly taking care of the household minutiae and my stepkids, making cheerleading clothes for the girl, scheduling dental appointments, shopping for groceries, etc. etc.

Although I was aware that my husband had no real notion of how much I was doing during that period of my life (to him my daily grind was only “a little cooking and minimal housework,” no more burdensome than his three weekend hours of lawn care or carwashing), I was astonished to hear that his assurance that I was leading a life of relative leisure extended to the idea that I had time and energy to fool around on him.

But there’s no arguing with emotionally mediated perceptions. To some extent even the most sensible among us will see what we want or expect to see. Given my sexy singlehood, it was impossible for him to believe that my libido had died. So obviously I was getting What Every Normal Woman Always Wants from someone else. I had to be having an affair. Believing something that defied the laws of the space-time continuum was evidently easier for him than believing that I wasn’t really interested in sex anymore.

Yeah, well, we’re all a little crazy sometimes.

He never confronted me, of course. He never asked, never even hinted that this was what he was thinking. It was only after we had become truly trusting and intimate, much later in our marriage, that he confessed the dark thoughts he’d had about me decades earlier. As I said, by then it was kind of funny, and we laughed about it. Gently.

When I thought about this amazing revelation later, I realized that the way he had been trying to explain my sudden loss of interest in sex to himself was not just by seizing on the thing he feared the most, but also the thing that would most thoroughly take HIM off the marital hook. If our sexual problems were entirely my fault because I was stepping out on him, he didn’t have to examine his own behaviors, assumptions or intentions. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, he was being the perfect husband. I, on the other hand, was a betrayer, a bitch, and the ungrateful, selfish Cause Of It All. But somehow he still loved me.

Like I said, people are nuts sometimes.

Anyway.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this amusing story of temporary insanity has nothing to do with YOUR sexual problems. Because, let’s be frank, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that YOUR wife is indeed having an affair. Some experts believe that the incidence of female marital infidelity has increased in the last 30 years, and that approximately 25% of married women have extramarital sex these days (along with about 45% of men). I’ll talk a little more tomorrow about what motivates infidelity and how you can deal with it if it has actually happened to you. Or even if it is you who has stumbled.

While it is very often an unrecoverable misstep, especially if it is the woman who cheats, in a surprising number of cases it can still be overcome.

But do consider, at least for a moment, that even if you are absolutely positive there’s no other reason for your wife’s loss of erotic interest in you, you still might be wrong.

COMMENTS ON THIS POST:
Postulate: Infidelity is not really the word I’m looking for. But can having other sexual partners with full the knowledge and understanding of your mate ever be a good thing? Would like to get your initial reaction before writing more. (I’ve been chastised unmercifully by women in the hereabouts more than I care to remember – Usually starting out with the words, “Oh rich – you poor thing…”. I realize this might be a rough one for you – or maybe not? Hmmm

regards – radical rich

rich [apple] 6/2/03; 1:36:52 PM

But can having other sexual partners with full the knowledge and understanding of your mate ever be a good thing?

OF COURSE!But the element of your question that lets me say that is the “with the full knowlege and understanding of your mate” part.

Polyamorous relationships are damned difficult to pull off well, and can end up badly for one or another of the group of partners even if everyone assures everyone else that they must and will remain cool about all sexual configurations. Despite good intentions and noble aspirations, it’s not uncommon for one or another of a pair attempting an “open marriage” to feel at least temporarily railroaded, threatened or cheated by their partner’s attempts to free themselves sexually.

Even these problems can be overcome, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say that most of the successful “polys” I know have had at least one incident of major inconvenience or grief or misunderstanding stemming from their multiplicity (and of course, to be fair, they’ve also had some really good times).

For me, as an outside observer of these experiments and “lovestyles,” the prospect of trying to juggle multiple partners — and do my emotional best for them all — is just too damned complicated. I have enough going on in my life as it is, and I just don’t need the demands (or even the pleasures) of another sexual partner.

Finally, I prefer not to impose any unnecessary challenges on my lengthy and beautifully exclusive partnership. Things are too good, we’ve been a couple too long, and life is great the way it is. Monogamy has been very, very good to us.

But I know too much about people to say that monogamy is the ONLY worthwhile form of erotic relationship, and as I understand it a switch to polyamory has actually saved a marriage or two.

Julia Grey [apple] 6/2/03; 2:40:37 PM

Bravo Julia. Your response to my openly honest and serious query was no more or less than I expected. Mine is kind of a long story and I’ll cut it short here, but being a child of the 60’s and 70’s, THINGS just sort of happened sometimes. We’re not advocates of the so-called “open-marriage” concept to be sure. My gawd this is harder then I thought it would be. My mother reads my blog. I’ll go off-line with this one – fully aware of course that you’ll probably reprint it. Arghh :-).

For now, regards – rich

rich [apple] 6/2/03; 4:30:16 PM

FWIW – I’ve been in a 32 year Poly relationship. There have been some hard times and some great times. Only one of the hard times was Poly connected, and that was because I missed an ensuing effort by the OSO to “compete”. When I finally saw it, I pulled back from her.

Roy Kay [apple] 6/2/03; 5:38:48 PM

I won’t reprint it if you ask me not to, Rich.

Hi, Roy…I knew you’d show up in this thread. heh.

Julia Grey [apple] 6/3/03; 10:51:31 AM

June 5

I was taken to task for part of my post the other day in which I cited studies which indicate that about 25% of wives and 45% of husbands cheat. Some of those studies might underestimate the cheating population because their design doesn’t allow for enough anonymity and/or because they allow the respondents to define for themselves what constitutes infidelity.

As was highlighted in our recent National Unpleasantness [the Clinton-Lewinsky matter], there are people who believe that certain sexual activities with other partners aren’t “real sex” at all, and thus “not really cheating.” On the other hand, I find that some people’s definition of what constitutes infidelity can also be extremely severe. Fundamentalist Christians, for example, often refer to Jesus’ condemnation of “lusting in your heart.” He seems to have said that just thinking about it is the equivalent of having gone all the way. And in public conversation, at least, I’ve noticed a definite hardening of people’s attitudes toward infidelity over the last couple of decades.

In an online group recently I witnessed several women “ganging up” on and vociferously condemning one of the men for light-heartedly expressing his sexual interest in a real-life co-worker. The confession “creeped them out,” they said, because “he’s MARRIED!” I thought this was ridiculous, and I said so. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, since an earlier attempt to raise the subject of real-life infidelities in that group had been short-circuited in minutes by an outraged chorus of disgust heaped upon the depraved animals who would ever indulge in such a horrifying activity. The consensus seemed to be that there was no way such an awful thing could or ever should be forgiven under any circumstances whatsoever, so any “discussion” of it was impossible.

You’d have thought we were talking about drowning four-year-olds.

I was more than a little bemused by all this. Not only is my own definition of infidelity a little more nuanced and flexible than “just thinking about it,” I certainly don’t think it is an absolutely unforgivable mistake. I’m what you might call an agnostic situational ethicist on the question — and frankly that’s a very precarious thing to be in public discourse these days.

So as I go on here, I suspect I’m going to get a lot of mail about how I’m saying horribly dangerous things that will give my wide-eyed, innocent readers the idea that they have some kind of “permission” to fool around (and I should therefore be ashamed of myself), but bear with me for a bit.

I have to wonder why people get so much more hysterical about this subject — at least in public — than they seemed to in the 70s and 80s, given that some researchers believe that infidelity might have become more common since then, especially among women under 30. Some figures I read recently indicated that up to 70% of marriages will be forced to cope with some form of infidelity at some point.

It’s also impossible these days to avoid the unending celebrity parade of spectacular cheating, serial breakups, intimate betrayals, abandonments, reunions and reconfigurations. (The dizzying behavior of Julia “Fickle” Roberts, for example, makes even ME point and hoot in derision.) But it’s not just those airheaded movie and music types, either. It’s politicians, CEOs, sports stars and college professors. When it comes to “ordinary people,” it’s not just happening among what an acquaintance of mine once loftily called “the hard-drinking working class.” Our suburban friends and neighbors — especially those in the baby boom generation, living out their midlife desperations — are abandoning their marriage vows right and left, whether that means full-blown affairs, one-night stands, going down on each other in SUVs, kissing in party kitchens, or typing sweet nothings to online lovers. People we know and talk to every day, who are no different from us in most other ways, are splitting up and remixing with incomprehensible speed. Even the neighborhood preacher is caught with the chairman of the Altar Guild.

Everybody’s Doin’ It, it seems.

So among those of us who aren’t — or who fervently HOPE it won’t happen to us — it’s no wonder that our anxiety on the issue has increased. Anxiety makes us angry and defensive, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that we’re suffering from a hardening of attitudes and extreme expressions of “pre-emptive condemnation” when the subject is raised in public settings.

But here I want to try to discuss it as calmly and rationally as possible, and I want to talk about it with YOU, from YOUR perspectives. So the first question I have to ask is, what acts or emotions mark your personal boundary between acceptable interaction with another and infidelity? What could you forgive your wife doing with another man (if anything), and what would constitute the absolutely unforgivable?

And — this is the hard part — WHY are those things either forgivable or unforgivable as far as you’re concerned?

June 10

Speaking of forgiving infidelity, there is a prominent “wronged wife” in the news [Hillary Clinton had just published Living History] who has been kicked around unmercifully on right-wing cable commentary shows the last couple of days.

The general tenor of the remarks coming out of the mouths of these political Jerry Springers is, not to put too fine a point on it, utterly disgusting. These men (they’re mostly men, except for a few opportunistic harpies) are universally outraged at Hillary Clinton. Why? Because, according to them, she couldn’t possibly have really believed her husband’s denials of his infidelity for that long and — worse by far — she eventually forgave him for it. The Clintons are still married, and for some reason that makes these vile television types apoplectic with rage.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get this public orgy of judgment and outrage. I can somewhat understand the right’s generalized hatred of Bill Clinton. I’m sure it’s hard to feel anything but distaste for a man who stands in the way of so many of your cherished goals, so their enmity toward him has what could be called a rational component despite its overall out-of-control character. But the right’s paranoid psychosis regarding “Hitlery” Clinton has always been a mystery to me. This small, smart blonde woman is, for all intents and purposes, Satan Incarnate to these folks. She must haunt their dreams.

It’s way, wayyyyy weird and I’ve given up trying to fathom it. But I’m especially interested in the current dynamic because of the subject of this blog.

Why do so many people feel so strongly that Hillary should never have forgiven Bill for his infidelity? Why does it MATTER so much that she didn’t divorce him? Certainly for the right wing it’s just one more club to beat her with (and one suspects that if she had divorced him, they’d use that instead, to accuse her of being a vicious and unforgiving shrew without any interest in preserving the noble institution of marriage).

We actually have pundits out there claiming that they can read the lady’s mind, that they “know” what she knew and when she knew it, and that she stayed with Bill only because she’s an ambitious bitch who couldn’t go it alone (in spite of having her own independent career now). These people claim to “know” there’s no love between these two human beings, that the marriage is a sham and its continuation is an affront to all moral Americans. The whole thing is bizarre.

My take is that Hillary Clinton’s marriage and the compromises she has made to maintain it are none of my business. Period. If she had based her political career even partially on some kind of “men should be dumped the instant they stray” philosophy, it might be relevant or useful to publicly discuss the fact that she cannot fulfill her pious exhortations in her own life. But cooking up white-hot outrage over matters of private negotiation, and dishing our barely-controlled glee at others’ marital misfortunes is not political analysis. It’s approximately on a par with Paula Zahn’s repeated scheduling during her jaw-dropping career at FOX of a “psychic” who claimed to be able to speak to the whereabouts of Chandra Levy.

Clearly, though, infidelity is an issue which calls forth vehement emotions even when politics aren’t involved. We are all tempted to judge others’ handling of infidelity in their marriages. Perhaps it’s because we recognize the central role of our marriage promises in the ideals that we struggle so hard to maintain and live up to.

Let’s not forget that there is a valid role for idealism in both communal and individual lives. Fidelity often seems like an ideal that’s impossible to achieve given the venality of mankind, the pressures of biology and the encouragement provided by a more forgiving society these days. But of course the measure of an ideal’s value is not in whether it is hard or easy to achieve but whether its achievement creates a positive or supportive effect on individuals and society.

There have been many ideals in the past which did not create positive effects on the people who attempted to conform to them. The Victorian ideal of sexually “pure” and sweetly passive womanhood, for example, was one which warped human beings individually and on a vast social scale (see Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White). Perhaps the idea that one should confine oneself sexually to a single partner for life is equally outdated (an arguable concept, certainly), but there is one part of the fidelity ideal that isn’t outdated, that CAN’T be, if we expect to be fully human and cooperative as a society: the promise part.

When you have given your word that you will be sexually faithful, whether you give it privately in your bedroom in the dark of night or it’s announced publicly in a marriage ceremony, your integrity is at stake. Being the kind of person that other people can trust on the strength of one’s spoken word of honor is an ideal to which people in every age should aspire.

(There, I said it. I used the word “should.” How do I dare? Heh.)

Maybe the reason people hyperventilate so much about Hillary forgiving Bill and staying with him is because it looks to some like he wasn’t “punished” in any way for his betrayal of his marriage vows. It’s always scary when our ideals are challenged by the prospect that nothing much will happen to people who defy them. The spectacle of a man “getting away with it” causes intense anxiety in some people…and for others, even a kind of guilty envy. Resentment of “scot-free” serial adulterers is perfectly natural and even an essentially good impulse, but it can easily turn pathological.

The more frightened we are, the angrier we get when we are reminded of our fear. Whenever you find yourself in a screaming rage about something, you should look closely at the situation to find a source of fear.

What people fear about adultery is easy to see. Adultery raises the most basic and age-old terrors of being human: fear of loneliness and abandonment, fear that trusting others is a mug’s game, fear that love — all love, not just our own — is nothing more than opportunitistic fakery in the service of biological drives, and fear that we ourselves are inadequate, unlovable, worthless people. If our nearest and dearest were to reject us, when they know us so well, we would be the moral equivalent of dog doo, right? This is SERIOUSLY scary stuff.

When our friends and neighbors and well-publicized politicians start fooling around on each other, that seriously scary stuff is pushed into our faces and consciousness whether we like it or not. So, as scared people always do, we project our own inarticulate, worried rage onto other people, preferably people we don’t have to deal with on an intimate or daily basis. And that’s how Hillary Clinton’s forgiveness of Bill’s philandering becomes a fundamental assault on all that is moral and just in American life (or, from the other end of the political spectrum, a spineless collapse in the face of patriarchical power and immoral excuses).

One might almost be tempted to say that the people most outraged by Hillary’s supposed marital failings are those who have something to hide — or to fear — themselves.

COMMENTS ON THIS POST:

Hope you didn’t miss this one at Salon today: http://salon.com/sex/feature/2003/06/09/alvear/index.html

>regards – rich

rich [apple] 6/10/03; 1:33:20 PM

Interesting. I just read it.

He writes:

All I know is that I struggle with the eternal question facing every man: How do you build a meaningful life when your inner pig snorts like there’s a trough around every corner?

And he asks “Why is fidelity considered so moral?”

Fidelity means faithfulness to the VOW. The promise. That’s the morality of it: keeping your promises, being an honorable human being. Certainly if you overtly, verbally renegotiate that promise at some point in the relationship, you aren’t breaking it. Absent that, you ARE doing something “immoral” when you cheat.

As I see it, it’s the sneaking that’s the problem, not the multiple partners, per se. As I said earlier, monogamous fidelity has been very, very good for us and many other people I know. It’s wonderful to have reached this point in our lives with such a rich history of trust and exclusivity, but it’s not necessarily the only way to go.

To my mind, living in an open marriage would be just as difficult as living in a faithful one. It’s just that the difficulties would not involve the challenges (and rewards) of remaining sexually alive to a single partner. For me it’s been an ENTIRELY worthwhile trade-off.

Julia Grey [apple] 6/10/03; 2:14:57 PM

While I’m never one to downplay the importance of sexual frustration as a motivator of right-wing politics, there’s something deeper at work here than just the issue of Bill’s infidelity and Hillary’s apparent tolerance for it. The Clintons represent not just a flouting of the mores of conventional marriage, but the embodiment of an entire cultural ideology that conservatives find viscerally hateful. They are the Sixties – they questioned, they thought for themselves, they changed the rules they didn’t like, and the Hand of God did not descend from the sky to snuff them out.

To authoritarian-minded ideologues, if the Clintons are right about ANYTHING, then EVERYTHING the right is emotionally invested in – venerating obedience and guilt, spirit-stifling fundamentalism and crypto-fascist “codes of honor” – means nothing. It’s hard to articulate, but if you’ve observed a Clinton-hater at close range, you know what I mean. Their marriage is just a symptom of their general culture-destroying evilness, and one more reason why good God-fearing Americans should despise everything they stand for. Kinda makes you want to move to France, doesn’t it?

Rob Salkowitz [apple] 6/10/03; 5:26:03 PM

Naaah. Great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Julia Grey [apple] 6/10/03; 6:45:49 PM

Oh, and that was a VERY interesting analysis, Rob. Will have to think on it.

Julia Grey [apple] 6/10/03; 6:47:20 PM

I don’t think its that complex, really. Reporters have a vested interest in scandal, what else are they going to talk about, Iraq?

A woman decides her marriage is worth saving, so she forgives her husband. This is not new, people fight for their marriages, children, health, every day. I’m sure we all know someone who’s been through such a rough time and maybe even gained strength thereby.

But its not news. News is primarily concerned with fear and blame, blowing problems out of proportion. Notice how easily the news reports dismissed half of what Hillary said? How absolutely enraged she was, how she didn’t want to be with him? They casually dismiss the time it took for her to deal with his betrayal.

Celebrities are held to a different standard than the rest of us, because they are entertainment. The reality shows before there were reality shows.

Jeff [apple] 6/11/03; 5:43:33 PM

Celebrities are held to a different standard than the rest of us, because they are entertainment. The reality shows before there were reality shows.

That’s absolutely true, Jeff. I wonder why I didn’t see it before.

</”Survivor” junkie>

Notice how easily the news reports dismissed half of what Hillary said?

OH yeah. There was a poll on CNBC that asked whether we preferred to read “Living History” or the new Harry Potter. The anchor introduced the poll by saying something like, “Which book of fiction do you most want to read?”

Julia Grey [apple] 6/12/03; 7:23:51 AM

First, this blog is well done and I recently stumbled on it through a long series of links.

With regard to the Clintons, beside the allure of scandal passed off as news – “the public’s right to know” – this situation does raise interesting questions about how we evaluate a person’s sense of judgment. In essence, we tolerate and sometimes celebrate inconsistency in those with whom we sympathize or love and excoriate the same kind of inconsistency in those we dislike.

And it never stops – e.g., the new book about JFK and the attention paid to one of his intern sex toys. If you revere JFK, even just as an image, then you would read the book for the conclusion that JFK wouldn’t have committed us to Vietnam. But of course, reading between the lines, that conclusion is really an argument that JFK was too smart – as though LBJ were an idiot, as though LBJ didn’t voice skepticism, etc. So much depends on the eye of the beholder. Maybe LBJ wouldn’t have committed us if he weren’t carrying out JFK’s first steps? Who knows and the way you care is really a statement about how you see things, not about the objective truth of the matter.

As for fidelity itself, I believe that very few people are actually happy with open relationships or with partners that “cheat”. They may say they are, but people present fronts to the world. Truth is what happens when you’re alone, when you aren’t hiding behind a mask. My impression is that the current society – reflected in the current style of writing – places great emphasis on a glib, “it’s all good” ironic persona designed to deflect criticism while talking around intimacy. Deep down, for almost everyone, fidelity is part of love and genuine intimacy, and not having it hurts like hell.

To turn this back to Hillary Clinton, none of this matters in politics since politicians are notoriously flawed – leftists, rightists and centrists all. I would imagine the couple is equally flawed. Ms. Lewinsky aside, Bill has been a philanderer and it’s hard to imagine he’s stopped cold turkey, but imagine Hillary’s own flaws and needs drew her into this marriage. People pick mates for complex reasons and my observation is that many, many reasons rank higher than happiness and true intimacy. People marry for passion (which almost always fades), for security, as rebellion, as a way to salve the pain caused by parents, as an out, as an in, because of a laugh or a sparkle, because of a smell, and so on. If Hillary liked Bill’s hands . . . this is her life, her marriage, her happiness or lack thereof, her hidden scars. As the overused Thoreau quote goes, “the great mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

jonathank [apple] 6/12/03; 8:02:19 PM

People in open relationships are not going to discuss it with people who might have a problem with them. Like anybody in a social niche, they get good at sounding out others without revealing their own beliefs.There are alot more of them out there than most people think, as our definitions of family and marriage change its going to become even more common. They really don’t want to deal with people they associate with thinking of them as ‘available’ or ‘loose’ when they are often pickier with their partners than monogamists are. They are aware of how people dismiss their behavior as deviant or unhealthy. And likewise, are aware of how others dismiss their opinions of happiness, claiming that only serially monogamists can be happy.

This is contrary to the evidence. There are millions of people in marriages who are not cheating on each other, and are horribly unhappy together. And it doesn’t take another sexual partner to promote feelings of jealousy and envy. Fidelity is not a miracle ingrediant for having a satisfying relationship.

I think most ‘normal’ people rarely question their relationships much until they threaten to fall apart. This is pretty understandable, considering human nature. But it does mean that a common theme in most marriages is a period of unhappiness followed by a struggle. It doesn’t have to be fidelity, it could be just disappointment or boredom. But after the struggle, if they are still together, it is usually a much better relationship than it ever was.

Jeff [apple] 6/12/03; 9:00:06 PM

I really don’t care about open relationships, monogamy, polyamory or whatever. What I see is a world of screwed up people. Some are married, some are single and some are in between. The form of their lives is window dressing for who they really are. Most people simply aren’t happy and they live with that unhappiness in whatever form they’ve either chosen or fallen into.

There is certainly no correlation between happiness and sex. Some of the most miserable people I know have sex-drenched lives and some of the happiest people are sexless. I could have reversed that, though my gut feeling (from personal experience) is that the happiness related to sexual feeling is more transient. I often watch my animals – all neutered – for the exuberant joy they take when I slide open the door and they literally caper in the yard. They love the affection of a head rub, but they take and give that pleasure without sexuality – sensuality, yes, in the softness of the fur and the way they twist to keep your hand against them, the same sensuality that Hopkins saw in the flight of a bird.

We tend to speak of sexuality in isolation. I was pleased to read some of the articles on this site because they spoke honestly of the relative importance of raising children versus sex. In my family, we place tremendous emphasis on child raising because we see that as our absolute primary responsibility. And of course that has placed strain on us – individually, as a couple, sexually and otherwise. It’s also been worth it, 100% without reservation. My only regret is that we didn’t have more.

Jeff, as a specific response, I don’t see marriage changing. People want love. They try each other on more now – from hooking up to multiple marriages – but almost everyone still wants that special person. It does bother me that more people seem to have children with little commitment to providing parents, as though having a relationship means having a child means you then just move on when the relationship ends as though the child is just another part of your life and not a separate being that you’ve chosen to make and for which you have responsibility. But that’s the way it is.

I’m only myself. My experience was that, with a couple of exceptions, every date or casual meeting ended in bed. Unsettling because it was painfully obvious that even the most outrageous wanted love, wanted more than I was willing to give. Said or unsaid, great sex or bad, they wanted real intimacy and, beyond that, real love. I was not comfortable with that kind of power to hurt.

jonathank [apple] 6/13/03; 7:57:52 AM

Said or unsaid, great sex or bad, they wanted real intimacy and, beyond that, real love.

I think this is very telling. I’ve seen literally dozens of women throwing themselves onto men sexually as a way to “get” to them, in a vain hope that it will somehow magically produce the real affection/connection they crave. What it tends to create instead, of course, is apprehension or contempt. It’s very sad.

And similarly, as I tried to say earlier in the blog, the main reason the sex issue becomes so fraught between marriage partners is because it is seen as terrifying evidence that real intimacy and real love not only has faded from that relationship, but — worse — maybe isn’t possible at all. Ever. With anyone. (Yikes.)

Not wanting to face that possibility or the other issues it raises, we turn our attention instead to the natural physical demand and how we have a Right to expect our partners to fulfill it. We say to ourselves, “Even if they don’t love us, even if they don’t want intimacy, we can still demand sexual release from them.”

The real problem is that when we narrow our expectations that far, we’re confessing that we’ve given up, and it actually makes the possibility of real love or commitment recede into the emotional distance.

Julia Grey [apple] 6/13/03; 11:49:04 AM

a common theme in most marriages is a period of unhappiness followed by a struggle. It doesn’t have to be fidelity, it could be just disappointment or boredom. But after the struggle, if they are still together, it is usually a much better relationship than it ever was.

I think this is VERY true. Absolutely.

Julia Grey [apple] 6/13/03; 11:50:47 AM

How’d you get to be such a dumb cunt? Just wondering?

Curious [apple] 6/13/03; 4:45:37 PM

thumbs in ears, fingers waggling

Nyah-nyah to you, too, kid.

Julia Grey [apple] 6/13/03; 7:28:41 PM

Hillary is a reasonable target in her own right: From the “command performance” of the health care meetings, to the attempts to suppress the records, to Whitewater, to filegate; she had shown an arrogant contempt for transparent political processes – and invited resentment and distrust.

Likewise, when Bill Clinton refused to sign the continuing resolution in 1995, shut down the government and blamed the GOP for it; that earned him considerable undying enmity.

Paula/Monica was just the only instrument that came to hand, which was why it was used. In the end, the Clinton’s won – not because they survived, but because the distraction of the GOP gutted the Contract With America. For example, the Education Department is now redeemed by the “Education President”.

I have no idea what their relationship is. Hillary was pissed, but that could simply be because she was left high and dry in the politcal maelstrom. They did deny having “an arrangement”, but politicians proclain and deny all sorts of things to get elected.

Roy Kay [apple] 6/14/03; 6:58:41 AM

I guess you really are a Republican, Roy. Alas.

But let’s get real here. Who the hell is really for “transparency” in government? Certainly not YOUR boys as they’re running things these days.

Wow, the Clintons made a few big mistakes in governing…I’m shocked, I tell you, SHOCKED to know that American presidents ever miscalculate or … heaven forfend… make political enemies! They tried to make policy behind closed doors! Those fiends!

Do their errors — and I don’t concede that calling the Reeps’ budget bluff was one — mean it’s right to defend the lynching party who attempted to take ’em out and shoot ’em with a silver bullet called Monica?

And why do you, of all people, care whether they have an “arrangement” OR whether they falsely denied it?

shaking head in disbelief

Julia Grey [apple] 6/14/03; 2:34:22 PM

The most boring component of current political commentary is the: “Well, you oppose the Clinton, so you must be a right-wing Republican” idiocy. And here it is again.I voted for Clinton twice. He was not destroyed by a Republican conspiracy. He destroyed himself, and the issue was not sex.

The Clintons and their followers were the great evangelists of the sexual harassment crusade. They didn’t mind when other men were ruined, disgraced and imprisoned. They did mind, however, when the survival of the Clinton administration was at stake.

Bill Clinton should have been convicted as well as impeached by the standards of his, and his wife’s ideology. The CEO of my firm would be summarily fired for behaving in his office as Clinton did, and that’s because Clinton pushed the policies that would have provoked the firing.

Get off it, folks. To repeat, I voted for the moron twice. Clinton disgraced the office by lying, and by promoting a political double standard in which some men were ruined for sexual harassment and he got off.

And this BS that the left is sexy is just that. The feminazi left is as crazily puritanical and determined to punish sexual behavior as the crazy right.

Get as life, folks, and quit defending the idiot Clintons. They disgraced the presidency and they disgraced the U.S. That the right hates them does not mean that they did not act like low-life garbage. They did.

Homer Simpson [apple] 6/16/03; 1:32:01 PM

Sexual harassment is UNWELCOME sexual attention. Monica not only welcomed it, she initiated it.

It was not sexual harassment. Period.

So get over it, yourself.

Julia Grey [apple] 6/16/03; 2:54:22 PM

Life in L.A. got a “FU” comment the other day and now you’re getting trashed – DC. There goes the neighborhood. BTW, What was your original article about again? Who knew? Sorry for the unintentional trump. But it sure looks like it needed to be discussed, eh?

best regards – rich

rich [apple] 6/16/03; 3:08:13 PM

Apparently I’m getting a goodly number of visitors from Rob Salkowitz’s blogroll. He took on a puerile Wall Street Journal editorial and ran up about 7K hits today. This is just spillover.

Julia Grey [apple] 6/16/03; 8:51:48 PM

This is turning into a BB, Oh well

>I guess you really are a Republican, Roy. Alas.

Nah, more like Libertarian. Either way, I’m SOL on the hugs, so machts nichts.

>Who the hell is really for “transparency” in government? Certainly not YOUR boys as they’re running things these days.

I am. Nothing eviscerates confidence in the state like seeing the sausage being made. And they ain’t “my boys”.

>Do their errors — and I don’t concede that calling the Reeps’ budget bluff was one — mean it’s right to defend the lynching party who attempted to take ’em out and shoot ’em with a silver bullet called Monica?

If you paid attention to my original post, you would recall, that I was objecting to the GOP focus on Monica/Jones. They should have kept hammering at the budget. Like I said, Monica/Jones was ultimately a Clintons’ victory. Bill’s making 9.5M/yr.; Hillary’s a senator gaining stature; the government is bigger than ever. I wish I could suffer this kind of defeat.

>And why do you, of all people, care whether they have an “arrangement” OR whether they falsely denied it?

I don’t. I was calling attention to the fact that the “wronged wife” actually doesn’t exist; thus shooting down the whole basis of the freeper’s piss fest.

BTW – Why isn’t my name showing up as a link?

Roy Kay [apple] 6/17/03; 6:30:06 PM

Thanks for your answers, Roy.

>Why isn’t my name showing up as a link?

Are you filling out the “email” and/or “URL” boxes on the submission form?

Julia Grey [apple] 6/18/03; 1:01:22 PM

It seems that I have to sort of re-log-in

I tried the “Are you not Roy Kay” button and got here now.

Roy Kay [apple] 6/18/03; 8:25:39 PM

Actually Julia, consent is not really possible in the case of a superior and a subordinate. Think about it arguably the most powerful man on the face of the Earth and an intern. Hmmm yeah right she could say no and it wouldn’t affect the rest of her life. No way. If you think about it the sexual harrasement happened before consent unless she came on to him, and I’m sure all interns have ready access to the Pres.

Not to suggest that it was politically the best thing for the Reps to do.

The loathing for Hillary was first and foremost her socialist leanings (think: “It Takes A Village”) and the fact that she pretends to be a liberated woman but has no problem whatsoever riding on her husbands coattails to power. That and the comment about baking cookies was pretty revealing (insult our mothers and you will NOT be forgiven)

John [apple] 6/19/03; 9:36:12 PM

>If you think about it the sexual harrasement happened before consent unless she came on to him

She did. Apparently you haven’t heard her side of the story. Strange, that, given your misplaced concern for her welfare.

I’m sorry Hillary insulted your mother. She didn’t insult mine.

Julia Grey [apple] 6/24/03; 9:56:05 AM

June 13

I’ve heard several things regarding my use the other day of Jesus’s exhortation against “lusting in your heart.” A couple of them seemed very relevant to our subject here, so even if you’re radically uninterested or even hostile to religious stuff, bear with me for a minute. There’s a secular point coming, I promise.

The context is the Sermon on the Mount. As Jesus grew more popular, questions began to be raised about where he stood on the Jewish Law, and he was trying to clarify his views for this big crowd of people who were following him around. So he was going through several of the Commandments as they were usually stated (“You have heard it said…”) and then giving his view on what that law meant (“…but I say to you…”).

Part of what he was trying to do was rebuke the religious fundamentalists of his day, the Pharisees, who preened themselves on how much more rigidly they adhered to the letter of the Law than other people. So Jesus tripped them up, smacked them in the face, put them down. He was saying that even following the letter of the Law wasn’t good enough…you had to conform yourself to its spirit as well. This is part of the basic Christian concept that even the most pious churchgoer remains a sinner, because there is always more he should be doing. The idea is that you don’t compare your righteousness to the people around you, you compare it to what God expects.

This concept has value even for non-religious people, if you translate “what God expects” to “the best a person can be.” The thing we should never lose sight of when we are trying to figure out what to do — not least because ignoring it will make us more miserable in the long run — is that our standards shouldn’t be based only on what other people are doing or only what society, advertising and fiction tell us is “normal” or “okay.” Instead we should look at the highest human standards, trying to find out 1) what we and the people we’re dealing with really need and 2) what a moral and humane life demands.

The other, more directly relevant thing is what Jesus meant by the words “looking on a woman with lust.” Here’s what “T” had to say:

Lusting is more than “thinking about it” – it’s greatly desiring it. I think most Christians understand His basic point to be, if you want to do something, and you would do it if not for fear of being caught or other reasons that have nothing to do with you thinking it’s wrong, then really you can’t claim to be righteous. If you could get away with murder or adultery or whatever you’d do it. You’re just not brave enough, not less “sinful” then the person who does it.

I have been braver than is good for me in my 25 years of marriage.

Another Christian guy I talked to a while back in another context also told me that what Jesus was condemning wasn’t just the “idle thought,” but the enjoyment of repeated sustained fantasies, even if they weren’t actually sexual in nature. He gave as an example his own “excessive interest” in a woman he worked with. They flirted and he became preoccupied with her, too aware of her presence. They started Looking at each other with Meaningful Eyes. He would come in early to get a few minutes alone with her before the rest of the employees arrived. He wanted to touch her. He knew she Wanted him. He had dreams that made him sweat.

Nothing ever actually happened, of course, but it was because he suddenly realized that the thoughts he was having and the relationship he was encouraging were getting more and more dangerous. When he found himself starting to compare his harried wife at home (they had several young children) to his cool, sophisticated co-worker, the penny dropped. He was being “unfaithful” at least in that sense.

Personally I think this guy was being a little too hard on himself, but there is no question that HE felt better about himself and his marriage after he decided he had to avoid what he called “opportunities of sin,” the obsessing about the incipient relationship and the “special moments” he was hoping for with the young woman.

I know the whole “sin” thing is very off-putting for some people, so I’m going to leave that stuff right there and let you translate or percolate it or throw it in the circular file as you see fit. But “T” had something else interesting to say.

Call it what you want but from the man’s point of view we know damn well what our wives would consider a betrayal. Kissing may not be technically adultery, but ask most couples if it’s “OK”. Or writing sexy notes, or lots of other things that are not really adultery perhaps, but they sure aren’t “forsaking all others, cleaving only to her”. I seem to recall promising that one day.If you have to hide it from your spouse, think about it.

I’m not sure I agree that anything you have to hide from your spouse is infidelity, but I’m giving it some thought.

COMMENTS ON THIS POST:

It is impossible to avoid noticing sexy women, thinking lustful thoughts about them, or perhaps getting a little flirtatious from time to time. You may have to hide them from your wife if you think she might misinterpret them or blow them out of proportion, but that does not make such thoughts or acts “infidelity.” (It may, however, indicate a trust or interpretation issue on your wife’s part, which would have to be dealt with.)

If one has to draw a line, it should be at the point where such thoughts or actions actually interfere with your intimate relationship, whether or not your wife knows about them. If your desire for another woman prevents you from enjoying your wife’s company, or if you’re spending time or energy with someone else at the expense of your wife, then you have a problem that must be dealt with.

Dave [apple] 6/13/03; 11:47:49 AM

I think any healthy relationship needs boundaries. Privacy. Personal space. Not secrets, but just…personal room.

For instance, my wife doesn’t have the password to my email account. I’m not trying to hide anything from her, and she knows that. I just need personal space. It bugs me when people open my mail without asking, and I view email the same way…regardless of who it is.

In return, I don’t ask for her email password, don’t open her mail, and give her the same privacy.

I tried the other sort of relationship, and it led to sneaking around…not for any nefarious purposes, but because I needed a break…an hour or two to be alone. I love my wife, and she loves me, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life…

But I wouldn’t be, and she wouldn’t be, if we didn’t have room to be ourselves.

Morat [apple] 6/13/03; 2:54:23 PM

Apropos to the computer lover references, here is a link to Fiona’s Story: A Tale of Online Love.

July 17

As I was reading Fiona’s story, one incident really made me sit up and take notice: the conversation in which Grant blew up at Fiona’s idea that online relationships were no big deal.

One night about [20] years ago I got the inspiration for my Great American Novel (enjoyed by millions … of dust bunnies in the lower desk drawer) while thinking idly about an old lover. He had played a vexed and confusing role in one of the last chapters of my exciting single life.

As I worked on the book that resulted (and, perhaps predictably, veered off into something that didn’t even begin to resemble what had really happened — starting with the handsome visage of the hero) I decided I’d like to find out what happened to that unhandsome but interesting guy. I looked him up via directory assistance, we talked briefly on the phone, and I sent him a letter to catch him up on the fifteen years since we’d last met.

A few weeks later, on a trip to a local resort, my husband and I got to talking about the book and this guy (we do some of our best talking in the car on trips). Without thinking too much about it, I said I’d like to see him again sometime and compare notes about the events that had proved so fertile to my imagination.

I should have known better.

To begin with, it was a bad time for my husband. He was just starting a new job after quitting one that had sapped his energy and confidence, and as a result we were in more than a little economic flux. Unbeknownst to us both he was also bleeding, gently but constantly, from an esophageal ulcer, and the encroaching anemia was beginning to make him feel like an old man, physically and mentally.

So, in that state of mind, he was sure I was saying I wanted to sleep with my old boyfriend. “That’s not what I’m saying!” I protested. And then I screwed the pooch: “But seriously,” I said, “would it be so horribly awful if I did?”

Dot. Dot. Dot.

When Fiona wrote that Grant’s ugly reaction to the idea of internet romance turned her against him for a time, I could only nod in sympathy, because when my husband went off on me for that unguarded remark, I felt much the same way. It made me withdraw from him and (temporarily) regard him as The Enemy from whom I had to hide my true self. On the other hand, from his point of view, that daisy-cutter reaction at least ensured that I understood exactly how unthinkable such an encounter should be if I wanted to continue my marriage. It was pre-emption with a vengeance.

Our old friend insecurity drives both infidelity itself and our reactions to it, and some of the other emotions we’ve covered also play a role, anger and boredom especially. It’s my belief that although the motivation of “just sex” seems to have taken a larger role when women are surveyed about their reasons for committing adultery, for many of us an exciting sexual relationship is a way of reconfirming ourselves as women, and thus assuaging our anxieties both about our feminine appeal and that existential angst of “Is This All There Is?”

I know I promised to come back after Fiona was finished and make regular posts for a while, but instead I have to take another lengthy break. I’m working on a formal pitch of this blog to publishers and my smart, smart agent is forcing me to rethink a lot of issues of structure and emphasis.[BLOGGER’S NOTE: This project never came to be, of course.] Apparently I have to create the publishing version of a screenplay treatment: a smaller, less detailed version of the (cough) masterpiece to come.

It’s consuming me like phosphor, from the brain down.

So, in haste, I’ll just post an outline of the points I was going to be making over the next few days, in the hope that I’ll be able to get back to them next week in more detail.

Following infidelity:

1) Divorce is not inevitable. Some marriages have improved after infidelity, but only because the crisis forced the partners to start being radically honest with each other. Needless to say, there are less painful ways to get at the truth.

2) Don’t be hasty. Stay together without making decisions about divorce or separation for at least six months.

3) The affair must end. This cannot be the occasion for a forced re-negotiation of marriage vows.

4) Guilt and anger can and must be honestly expressed, but you should be alert for malignant transformations of these expressions into Power plays. For example, piously playing the MVP (Most Virtuous Person) is a form of control freaking, and it’s not the way to regain the intimacy and trust you need to renew your relationship.

5) The cheater’s partner is not to blame for the other person’s infidelity. The cheater is solely responsible for his or her own behavior. Full stop. However, looking toward the future, the wronged partner would be wise to make a realistic examination of the situation prior to the infidelity and make or suggest changes that will strengthen the relationship.

See you next week…maybe as late as Wednesday or Thursday. Depends on how far down I have to cut to reach the vein.

COMMENTS ON THIS POST:

It made me withdraw from him and (temporarily) regard him as The Enemy from whom I had to hide my true self. On the other hand, from his point of view, that daisy-cutter reaction at least ensured that I understood exactly how unthinkable such an encounter should be if I wanted to continue my relationship with him.

Julia, I continue to be impressed by your insightfulness. Not many people see these things, even in hindsight. I guess you’ve done a lot of thinking about these conversations.

I wonder why you approached your husband this way, though. I know that intelligent wives have ways of broaching conversations to provoke actual brain activity, instead of ‘daisy-cutter’ responses. Were you actively looking for his admonition?

I often feel that women are deceptively comfortable with daisy-cutter responses, as if using them test for emotions. ‘As long as he acts all jealous, at least I know he still wants me.’ From a man’s point of view, it often just appears to be another instance of baffling-behavior-on-her-part-that-I-get-blamed-for, which is why so many men just apologize for something they don’t understand.

Your response to your husband’s reaction, and Fiona’s to hers, really felt unfair to me. Both husbands were at least seamingly faithful, and their reward for this behavior should be closer relationships with their wives, not the opposite. Neither husband really was given the chance to consider the subject, both were just going along on autopilot, so to speak, neither saw the brick wall ahead looming in the darkness.

I’m sure both genders are dishonest in their own ways (and as generalities are never true for everbody, individuals too). But for any relationship beyond convenience, I believe there has to be regular periods of honesty. Not just for marriage, but friendship as well.

Jeff [apple] 7/21/03; 9:18:11 AM

This reminds me of my favorite Dear Abby/Ann letter. A doctor in upstate NY found out that after he left the house each morning his wife would have sex in their bed with his medical partner. Not occasionally but for years and years. What made the letter great was that it dripped rage.In response to cheating, I think we focus most on the cheater. But if the cheater wants to stay, reconciliation depends on the cheated. To me, the main factor is the degree of anger felt.

In this letter, the doctor then slept with his wife’s sister four times to get back at her – but hadn’t yet told the wife. He was confused because now, the affair over, she’d become very affectionate. You can tell he wants to rub it in her face, but he’s also concerned that somehow he’s acted badly.

Abby/Ann’s advice was counseling, but mine would have been “get out.” You can’t live with that kind of rage. You shouldn’t. Life is too short.

In contrast, a friend has reconstructed a marriage in which both cheated more than once. Though it hurt, they had such terrible personal histories – and alcohol issues – that they never became rageful. Maybe they didn’t expect better. Maybe they were more understanding of human weakness.

This doctor faced a double betrayal and I suspect the confusion grew out of his ego. As a doctor, he has to have the strength of self to deal with life and death. But here he discovers that he climbs into bed each night onto the wet spot left by his wife and partner. His sense of self is cracked and that creates deep-seated rage.

That is my primary comment: that one should evaluate the depth of one’s anger. My secondary comment is that one should get an evaluation. Not by a doctor but by someone who can tell you what you have to offer or literally how marketable you are to others.

My experience is from dating days. A girl cheated on me while I was away and I ignored it. I was insecure and it was easier than the horror of finding another girl. I also realized later that I was more enthralled by her beautiful breasts than by her. Older, a girl cheated on me and then wanted to get back together – classic it was a mistake, I really want you and now I realize it. I told her that I had no interest in a relationship with someone who’d already demonstrated that she couldn’t be trusted, with someone who’d hurt me, when the world is full of pretty girls. (I said some nastier stuff too.)

I was almost pathologically shy. I thought I was very unattractive. I thought I must be effeminate because gay guys of all ages would come on to, sometimes in publicly embarassing ways (like grabbing my ass on the street). I figured that a guy who attracted men couldn’t be attractive to women.

I screwed up the courage to ask a girl – not a friend but someone I knew a little who was pretty and intelligent and who I thought would be honest. She completely contradicted my self-image. It was hard to believe, but I kept at it and forced myself to examine available facts. All the girls I dated were pretty, some strikingly so. Almost every date ended in sex, even when I didn’t want it – that may sound odd, but I was very shy and hearing “what took you so long” as clothes came off only meant to me that I was inept at reading signals.

Self-confidence or at least an understanding that I could, if I forced myself, approach a girl and not be laughed at meant that I stayed out of bad relationships and more quickly ended the ones that turned bad. I think that enabled me to meet and grow close to the girl I married.

When you don’t understand what you can do you tend not to do anything. This doctor was very marketable. He was a highly paid professional and that alone could get him a new love. He has to have some caring to be a doctor and the letter indicated that he could feel deeply. He needed someone to help him get over the blow to his ego and do what he needed for his own happiness.

The irony in the letter was also delicious. The wife, affair over, has become highly sexual with her previously put off husband. Here she is, children are – if I remember – in their teens. She’s not getting younger. A divorce settlement would be reduced because she cheated big time. If I were her, I’d be very affectionate too. It’s her only shot. (This would make a great script.)

Beyond evaluating your rage, one has to look at the other factors. Can you afford divorce? How old are the kids and how are they doing with the marriage as is?

I found Fiona’s and Julia’s anger at their husband’s reactions perfectly normal. I get angry at my wife all the time for little things and I know it’s the same for her. To some extent, anger is necessary because it energizes and that helps create excitement and passion. But then it’s also just a byproduct of living together – as I told my kids when they were little, people fight and that’s part of life – to explain why they would bicker with their little friends.

Heck, I get angry because my wife can be oversexed or she starts talking about emotions when I’m just having sex with her. Means nothing and life goes on just fine since we cut each other enough slack. My wife has a couple of male friends that she sees with a group – not at night, not in suspicious circumstances. I don’t like these guys for a variety of reasons so I tend to cut off any discussion in which they’re brought up. And I have historically had mostly female friends. With one friend, who would drop by my office to talk, my wife took to barging in on me just in case something was going on. That friendship died fast.

jonathank [apple] 7/21/03; 6:48:17 PM

>3) The affair must end. This cannot be the occasion for a forced re-negotiation of marriage vows.

Uh, so renegotiation is always illegitimate if done under stress? If the “cheater” discovers that they are unhappy in a mono relationship, they only have the option of saying “Since we can’t renegotiate, I guess I want a divorce.”?

Further, this assumes that the other party to the affair has no vested interest in the outcome. I don’t think it’s that unusual that the other party has provided some sustaining support for the “cheater”, providing a more even keel in the “cheaters” evaluation of themselves. I can’t see how sex voids that contribution.

Roy Kay [apple] 7/22/03; 9:53:12 AM

August 1

Although I still don’t have time to engage in lengthy discussion on these issues, I did want to share some thoughts I received from “Sally” on the incident I talked about on July 17. I thought they’d add to the debate material we already have on offer in the comments section to that post.

I really will try to get back on Monday all right-eyed and bizzy-tailed to start blogging again, but I’m still underwater on a number of fronts, so we’ll see.

“Sally” was particularly interested in the Fiona saga because she recently found out that her husband was indulging in cybersex on gay sites. She wrote:

Discovering this infidelity was extremely painful for me. In fact, I subconsciously put off discovering and confronting it until I knew that I would have the time and space to deal with it, I believe. There had been clues before the one that I took to him — a print-out from the gay website that I found in his truck one day when I had to borrow it (a day immediately following a trip he had to make out of town in the same truck).The earlier clues, I had squirreled away in the back of my mental files somewhere. I consciously attributed most of his bizarre behavior to an attempt to manipulate me into being more what he wanted (do more housework, have more sex, pay more attention to him…). This allowed me to feel irritation towards him instead of the fear and pain which I could not bear to confront just yet.

When I finally found the guts to open and read the webpage and profiles that he had written, the feeling was a sharp contraction from sternum to pubis, while my heart pounded almost audibly. I can feel a trace of it again now, just writing this. And this is the problem — not the resulting anger or depression or even the lack of trust, I think. I cannot live in a relationship where this pain is repeated periodically, where my pain is discounted as being of less value, of less importance than the activity with which he provoked it.

It is because of this that your reaction and Fiona’s reaction seem selfish to me:

When Fiona said that Grant’s ugly reaction to the idea of internet romance turned her against him for a time, I could only nod in sympathy, because when my husband went off on me for that unguarded remark, I felt much the same way. It made me withdraw from him and (temporarily) regard him as The Enemy from whom I had to hide my true self. On the other hand, from his point of view, that daisy-cutter reaction at least ensured that I understood exactly how unthinkable such an encounter should be if I wanted to continue my relationship with him. It was pre-emption with a vengeance.

I have been the transgressor in such an act of infidelity before, too, see, (in my first marriage) and I know how much any attempts to interfere with the affair seem silly and unwarranted from that side. Your husband’s reaction is a threat to your comfort and happiness in the affair (how can this be such a big deal when it feels so good to me?). You are totally avoiding the recognition that your husband’s reactions are grounded in a feeling of pain that he cannot easily get rid of — a pain of which you are the cause. I don’t really think a “daisy-cutter reaction” can be considered calculating. I don’t think you’re getting “his point of view” at all.

And, yes, even the suggestion of the affair is enough to trigger the pain/fear reaction. This is probably why some of the internet stuff is scary even though it is half fantasy. This is also why I was able to convince myself that nothing was really happening for a while, and that my husband was just dropping hints of leaving in order to manipulate me. The little ways that he was hurting me were irritating, but not dangerously painful until I let myself look at the whole picture.

I find some porn scary for this and other reasons as well, when I am feeling insecure. What goes on in my husband’s head is his own business, but I don’t necessarily want to know about that, and I certainly don’t want to find objects (or .jpgs) lying around to make me conscious of it.

Fiona says:

Even if I did get a “boyfriend” I wouldn’t go meet him in real life, it would just be talking, after all, not a real relationship, not like really cheating. Just a sex fantasy like he probably had about the hot girls on TV. Well, he got all bent out of shape when I said that. It wasn’t the same thing at all, he wasn’t talking and interacting with the hot girls on TV, saying sexy things and having them reply. Having the relationship, the interactive part with a real human being, and not just dreaming about a girl in a magazine, that was the most threatening part of it to him. That wasn’t just a fantasy, he said, it was really cheating.

But it turns out that he is right and she is wrong. She would have gone to meet Mark if he hadn’t made those ‘Monica’ remarks. Grant really was in a position to be threatened.

I resented that he would be so hung-up, so untrusting, so jealous, when he didn’t need to be. It was his attitude that would cause trouble, not my relationship itself.

Is trusting your gut reaction really the same as being untrusting of another person?

For all I know Grant has an online girlfriend himself that he talks to from work or something. Or even a real one. I realize that as long as I don’t know and it doesn’t make him love me less, if I’m not aware of it taking something away from me, I don’t actually care. I would have cared, before. Now I understand that it doesn’t have to hurt one relationship to have one with someone else. I never would have imagined that to be possible before.

And this — I don’t think she can say this without having been in the situation of being cheated upon. When I was young, I thought this way, and I even gave my first husband permission to go on and have an affair if he wanted (because I wanted permission to have mine). But as it happened, even that affair was torture to me. Fiona’s saying it wouldn’t hurt her in the future is tantamount to the old fifties (male) doctors who said that menstruation couldn’t hurt because they couldn’t find any cause for the pain. If the pain is there, it is there, and reason has little to do with it. The knowledge that the other has no logical reason to feel hurt doesn’t ensure that he won’t.

This is one of the things I learned: Even when you are happy in your relationship and you want to be moral and keep to your vows, those vows suddenly don’t seem like such a tip-top priority when you start to feel so strongly about someone else. They go farther down the list of considerations than I ever dreamed they could.

This is precisely the reason for the vows, and in an effort to protect them, married people should avoid putting themselves in situations in which they “start to feel so strongly about someone else.” That boundary has to be protected. It is one that I have stepped back from at least three times in my present marriage, without really feeling any great sense of loss. Yes, a moral rule — perhaps kin to the others prohibiting inflicting emotional damage on our fellows. Unfortunately, it is one that has to be broken before it can truly be understood. In our skeptical society, we will probably all have to dash a few relationships before we can accept the rules that make one work.

And, yes, I am without a doubt less confident in my relationships than your normal, healthy, well-educated, American woman, but I am who I am, so this is the life I have to lead. I try to improve daily.

Your blog helps with that project, and I thank you.

She makes some good points, I think.

COMMENTS IN RESPONSE TO THIS POST:

Sally, thanks for your very candid remarks. I think your points adequately rebute the flaws in Fiona’s and Julia’s responses to their husband’s jealousy.

Tolo_04 [apple] 8/1/03; 10:01:55 AM

Very good letter, I’m glad she wrote in, and that the letter was posted. I do wish Sally didn’t have to deal with what she is. Finding her husband’s interest in gay relationships and porn puts everything, past as well as future, on unstable footing. So many hard questions, a few hard decisions.

Jeff [apple] 8/1/03; 11:30:41 AM

Your husband is doing online gay dating websites? That’s way serious. He’s really putting himself out there and, frankly, the odds that it’s just online are low. This doesn’t happen because you’re looking for a little excitement, because your sex life is a little dull or because you’re angry with your partner. This isn’t flirting. It’s much deeper than that. You have my sympathy.

jonathank [apple] 8/1/03; 2:41:37 PM

Actually everything is okay with us now. This was not the first inkling I had of my husband’s bisexual interest– I’ve known that for the 13 years we’ve been together, but we still had a monogamous ‘contract’ with each other. And this spring was a tense time in our relationship due to several things, but things have lightened up and communication (and sex) improved since we confronted this issue. He is still planning to start therapy, but more to learn more direct ways of communicating his unhappiness than to address the bisexual thing, I believe. The infidelity was the big problem for me, not the gender of his targets.

marijo [apple] 8/1/03; 6:27:25 PM

Glad to hear things are getting to okay, Sally. Great letter, which put my own reaction to the “daisy cutter” remarks more eloquently than I could. I hope he follows through on his plans for therapy. As I’m starting up a new relationship, I hope that I can put some of the insights I’ve found at Julia’s blog to good use, in keeping it from ending as poorly as the last did.

seminerd [apple] 8/5/03; 12:01:29 PM

Late and catching up.

Man, I am soooooooooooooooooooooo glad that I never get insecure in relationships. The person needing the therapy is the insecure person, not the well adjusted one. It’s pretty much a moral duty NOT to feel pain in another’s pleasure.

Roy Kay [apple] 8/19/03; 5:53:51 PM

August 4

In the comments section to the July 17 post, Roy (our resident polyamorist) objected to my saying that if the partners still want to stay together the affair must end. I held that a spouse’s discovery of infidelity cannot be the occasion for a forced re-negotiation of marriage vows.

Roy wrote:

Uh, so renegotiation is always illegitimate if done under stress? If the “cheater” discovers that they are unhappy in a mono relationship, they only have the option of saying “Since we can’t renegotiate, I guess I want a divorce.”?

This isn’t the Church of Julia Sez. Just because I spout off in a blog doesn’t mean I can prevent you or your spouse from advancing or agreeing to any given proposal. It’s not illegal to (gently or brutally) coerce a new “contract” out of your spouse.

But in my view it’s always at least morally questionable. If that doesn’t bother you, and if you don’t have a problem with the complications inserted into your relationship when you essentially force your spouse to accept and even reward your infidelity, go for it. Some people will put up with any damn thing if they love their partners enough. And who knows, maybe it will work out.

Maybe you’ll get to be King of the World, too.

If you’re unhappy in your monogamous relationship, the choices are not just

1) Renegotiate so I can have sex with other people while staying married

or

2) Get a divorce because my spouse won’t agree that I should be able to have sex with other people.

Come on. We’re all intelligent and logical people, right? Can’t we think of a third option (or even a fourth or fifth)?

If you genuinely believe that you want to stay married but that you HAVE to be allowed to have sex with other people in order to be happy in life, you should renegotiate your marriage BEFORE you break your initial promises. And then you can stop reading this blog because all your marital problems will be solved and you’ll be happy ever after.

Then again, as long as we’re talking Good Deals, I have sixteen acres of swampland in Florida I’ve been trying to unload since 1976.

Roy continued:

Further, this assumes that the other party to the affair has no vested interest in the outcome. I don’t think it’s that unusual that the other party has provided some sustaining support for the “cheater”, providing a more even keel in the “cheaters” evaluation of themselves. I can’t see how sex voids that contribution.

I’m not entirely sure I’ve understood this, but Roy seems to be saying that the “vested interests” of the person with whom the cheater is having an affair need to be considered. Well, okay, from a strictly human and sympathetic viewpoint, we do like to think of ourselves as decent people who can stop short of, say, shooting the “infidels” in their beds. And the affair partner’s interests should to be considered to some extent when making decisions that involve the affair, if only because that partner can create an awful lot more trouble for everyone if they are dismissed too cavalierly.

But by “consideration” I don’t mean that they should have equal weight with those of the married parties. Being the monogamy partisan that I am, for me the initial relationship should always come first. If it has irretrievably broken down, the option is divorce.

If it is still salvageable, I believe the parties have to concentrate on it and it alone during the dangerous and complicated period that follows infidelity. You can’t dissipate your energies at a time when you are struggling to cope with volcanic emotions. You especially have to guard against the temptation to pull away from the pain of reconstructive surgery and seek out the Other Person as an endlessly sympathetic escape from your responsibilities.

You either commit to the marriage or you don’t. You CAN renegotiate later, of course, when you are back on a more even and trusting keel, but during the crisis of infidelity it is — in my book — nothing short of shitty to say, “But we have to think of my poor lonely lover! What about his/her needs?”

I don’t think I can agree (if I’ve understood Roy correctly, anyway) that the Other Relationship might deserve to be maintained because the Other Person has “contributed” to the cheater’s self-confidence. In fact, re-reading that whole paragraph led me to suddenly wonder why it’s all about the cheater and the cheater’s “self-evaluation.”

COMMENTS IN RESPONSE TO THIS POST:

I’m polyamorous. I knew this (but didn’t have a name for it) before I got married. Still, when we hit some bumps in our marriage after about seven years, we agreed to be monogamous in order to work through our problems. There were no other significant others at that time, so we didn’t have to consider anyone else’s feelings.

We have recently decided that we are once again okay with being open to the possibility of allowing other loves into our lives, if that happens to be in the cards for us.

It’s not cheating if all partners are aware of what’s going on and consent to it. But if someone decided *after* they had married that they wanted to have relationships in addition to their current spouse, that would definitely require some renegotiation. I think the person should at least consider the possibility of not having other relationships if it would hurt his spouse too much. After all, when you’ve made a vow to this person, a commitment that is supposed to be for life, I don’t think you should demand that he renegotiate just because you got a whim that you had to have sex with other people.

Polyamory is about *loving* multiple people. If you are a mature, responsible, and ethical human being, you won’t insist that it always has to include sex.

Gentle Maitresse  [apple] 8/4/03; 6:23:43 PM

If I’m not mistaken, isn’t one of the prereqs for being in the lifestyle (an example, not poly) is that both agree. Most couples dabble in it because one is pushing the other and that is demonstrably destructive when one wants to stop or stay within boundaries. To say, as Maitresse does, that one should “at least consider not having other relationships” if that would betray your partner is really a rationalization of selfishness. It says, “My happiness, mostly my sexual gratification, is more important than my partner’s feelings. And guess what, he/she will just have to live with it or else.” That’s not right. If it’s wrong to judge another person’s choice of life, it’s also wrong for a person to force their life decisions on someone they supposedly love.

Bluntly, when I read roy’s comment, my first thought was that such a person, unless he’s speaking in the abstract, wants drama, chooses to inflict pain for an essentially selfissh reason and needs to control outcomes. Well, I don’t know roy and don’t know if he’s speaking of his own life, but certainly many people are just like that.

There’s a tremendous difference between ethical “should” and practical “does”. I don’t expect people to be “shoulds” when it’s hard enough just living. God knows I’m not perfect. My wife and I have had tough times – for many of the reasons Julia describes.

I asked one polyamorous woman if they talked about each other and the answer was no. I have no idea if this is the norm, but that compartmentalization is strange to me because it violates my conception that love doesn’t fit into a box. The closest mental comparison I ended up drawing was what we now call a friend with benefits, like if a riding buddy also blew me and we cuddled. We’d be lovers. But without the sex, I can still love the guy, just as I love the old woman that I talk painting with. There’s a piece of my heart with each, but none of my sperm.

I would characterize the few poly people I’ve known (or rather, those that I know are poly) not as more loving but less – the ones I’ve known, not the whole universe. They have fairly limited relationships with people and perhaps that motivates their need for more than one, since they don’t seem to explore the same ground in the different roles. Well, if that’s who they are, fine and I only play amateur psychologist for fun.

It’s interesting that polyamory talks about *loving* and being open to spiritual relationships when, to me, it really isn’t. It’s about a romantic relationship that almost always involves sex. I have friends who I genuinely love and with whom I have deep, multi-faceted relationships. I love my animals and have deep relationships with them. The difference is certainly not loving multiples, since anyone with children, family, friends and pets knows that is inherent in humans. The difference is romance and most likely sex.

My wife, like many women, has a very close old friend. They communicate on levels that are peculiarly theirs. They love each other and always will. This is not polyamory because the entire polyamory faq is about why polyamory isn’t cheating, requires openness, etc. and a love of a friend doesn’t even begin to raise such issues. If my wife fucked her friend, that would be polyamory. If they not only went to dinner, as they do, but held hands in the candlelight, that would be polyamory.

jonathank [apple] 8/4/03; 8:23:23 PM

But by “consideration” I don’t mean that they should have equal weight with those of the married parties. Being the monogamy partisan that I am, for me the initial relationship should always come first. If it has irretrievably broken down, the option is divorce.

How about maybe because they are human too and have feelings like you do. I have never heard such unfocused, using an excuse in my life. They have every right to have equal consideration. After all, something was wrong in the marriage for the cheating spouse to be with them in the first place.

Lynn [apple] 8/4/03; 8:54:33 PM

Offhand, here’s the way I look at it. I’m happily married. Neither my wife, nor I, have any real interests in people outside our marriage.

However, since we’re human beings (and human beings change and grow), it’s possible that will change. Maybe for me, maybe for her.

What it boils down to us what both parties are comfortable with accepting. I’m not the jealous sort. I’ve got few to no problems with her ‘fooling around’, other than insisting on some reasonable precautions. If she wanted to, I’d certainly be okay with it…and if that changed, we’d talk about it.

She, on the other hand, wouldn’t be quite so blase about it. She wouldn’t be fine with me and another woman.

Yet neither of us would consider it particularly unfair or “bad” if she slept with a man (with my permission) but I wasn’t allowed to sleep with a woman. It’s just how it works.

Cheating, poly, threesomes, a million different types of group relationships…I don’t think the details matter so much as the comfort and acceptance of the people in it.

Cheating is bad because you’re breaking trusts.

If my wife slept with Bob the Electrician, and I found out later, that would be damaging to our relationship. If, on the other hand, we’d agreed that she could do such things..and she’d adhered to the rules we’d set, it wouldn’t be.

But such agreement, such rules, have to come through true negotiation…not one partner forcing the other, not one partner going behind the other’s back.

Morat  [apple] 8/5/03; 10:25:05 AM

After all, something was wrong in the marriage for the cheating spouse to be with them in the first place.

I don’t necessarily agree with this. There might be something wrong with the cheater and not with what is on offer to him or her in the marriage.

There are people who are afraid of genuine intimacy, who fear being “overwhelmed” by another person’s needs or personality. One of the cardinal ways of avoiding those dangers is to keep a deep dark secret from one’s partner. When you have to hide something very important, it causes you to hold other things back in many subtle ways.

The other excellent way to avoid “giving in” totally to a relationship is to have another one and spread one’s attention and concern to more than one partner. Much as the demands of even very loved children can distract a couple from each other, having another romantic relationship can provide just enough distance to keep a commitment- or intimacy-phobe comfortable.

Again, this is just generalized speculation. It doesn’t necessarily apply to any given cheater.

Julia Grey [apple] 8/5/03; 10:44:28 AM

I wholly agree with Julia’s last remark. No matter what, you are responsible for what you do. People manufacture reasons why they should be excused – my wife/husband has been ignoring me/too busy at work/has been depressed, my wife/husband cheated on me 5 years ago so it’s my turn, my wife/husband made me angry. These are all rationalizations, what was called a few years ago “denial” because you’re denying your responsibility. The frank truth is that people want to blame their partner, to find fault that excuses their own actions.

As an aside, this issue is one of the two or three most fundamental themes of every major religion. Did not Jesus point out that we are quick to criticize someone else’s splinter while we fail to notice the plank sticking in our own eye? Cain asked “Am I my brother’s keeper?” when it was his hand that struck down Hevel.

This is also the main theme of law. Much of its development has largely been about assigning blame for actions. Your cow jumps a fence and eats a crop, so who pays? A building falls down, so what happens to the builder – in the Babylonian code, if the son of the house died in the collapse, then the builder’s son would then be killed.

No one believes that a person is required to sublimate his or her happiness to avoid offending a mate. We all have an inalienable right to pursue happiness. But that right does not create excuses. We live in an era where personal gratification has become a blanket justification for hurting others. If you don’t have the guts to suck it up and be aboveboard then you are doing the wrong thing.

jonathank [apple] 8/5/03; 3:32:34 PM

March 1, 2004

A sidebar on the Infidelity Topic

Here’s an email on a very common question that I got from “Dervish,” apparently after he had read the Infidelity section of the blog.

I’m trying to find an article about sexual behavior change after you catch your wife cheating. She never admits to having sex with him but I’m curious why her sexual behavior had drastically changed. She went as far as asking for something we had never done before, and we had sex more then we had in years. Got any comments?

I answered:

Sometimes a woman’s sexual behavior changes just through the magic of imagination. If she’s been reading sexy stuff or writing to him — in reality or in her imagination (in a private diary, for example) — or if she’s just allowed herself to imagine in detail what she’d like to do with a given guy, her interest in sex in general and sexual experimentation is very likely to increase. Remember that women are often turned on way, way more by what goes on inside their heads than what is actually happening on the outside.

In that case you are sort of in the same position as a woman whose husband has been drooling about other women and then wanting to have sex to, er, relieve himself. Not a super good feeling, maybe, but let’s face it, fantasizing about someone else is an EXTREMELY common situation between couples. It also doesn’t necessarily mean anything horrible or significant, because a person who is able to channel their sexual imagination/energy toward their partner and is able to gain ongoing satisfaction from him or her will sometimes end up strengthening the primary relationship, simply because real physical activity has a larger and more lasting effect on us. Of course, that’s only possible if the real partner can accept the phenomenon (which is often temporary and partial anyway) and doesn’t turn nasty or suspicious or weird about it all.

I’m just offering this as one possible way that your wife’s claim not to have physically “done” anything with another guy can actually be true.

Dervish’s wife might very well be lying, but it could also be a bad mistake to simply assume that a heightened interest in sex or a curiosity about different sex acts means that a woman is cheating.

I know it’s the first thing most men suspect under these circumstances (remember my story about my husband thinking that *I* was cheating on him?), but you should be very, very careful about the certainty of your accusations.


5 Responses to “Infidelity”

  1. Geno Says:

    Julia,

    Thank you so much for your work. You’ve heard it a million times, but I wish I had the foresight to have discovered this years before my marriage became what it is now.

    Would it be possible to post my own situation and get feedback? How do I go about this?

  2. sdbri Says:

    I appreciate this post and it has a lot of good insight. One thing I want to add is that if you and your husband are not at least communicating, it is both your fault. I’ve accepted that this is what happened in my case, and to make a long story short it was a fear of communication that caused a lot of misunderstandings. I.e. we would fight when we talked, so we didn’t talk, so we became passive aggressive about each other’s intentions and reasons. It was a deadlock in a vicious cycle.

    Reading this site is helping me break that cycle, because it shows there are small steps you can take to get out of that trap.

  3. margarita Says:

    interesting comments all–im going thru some midlife issues myself, my husband and i went thru a time when we were fighting a lot and i had a strong desire 2 have an affair–never carried it out in the real world, and i can say im glad i didnt
    i recently rediscovered one of my old favorite rock bands–they R a well-known band and i prefer not 2 name them–i have a ferocious crush on 2 members of this band and i do entertain fantasies about them–im not dumb enuf 2 throw my life overboard 2 go chase them around in the real world–the fantasies i think have actually defused the desire to cheat on my husband
    great site, i love reading the posts and the comments

    • Jimi Says:

      The only reason for a man to cheat on his spouse is because his life partner won’t satisfy his NEEDS. If she did, he would not have to look elsewhere to get what he NEEDS.

      Simple enough?

  4. A Woman Says:

    Well where shall i start my comment…i believe infidelity includes cyber/ph sex/cam sex… that is if it is not done with yr partner. Funny there is no mention of this new age activity on this blog yet. Yes im divorced, happily so and single.
    Lonely, i decided to look for a chat site. Not knowing what i was going to get myself into…lol I found a chat site..saw it said only over 18s mmm thought well ok lets see…some of the people are decent some are not…most are liars and some are not, many married men/involved men wanting to naughty chat, have cam sex or ph sex. I refused to do that with any man that is involved or married, just doesnt feel right to me. Anyway i met someone who was single told him i think it best we don’t chat as he was 16yrs younger than me. We ended up having such an intense talk about life i was instantly hooked on his personality. We chatted for 6 months before we met, these chats eventually included cyber sex (basically erotic chat which you type to one another which ends in masturbation on both sides)..then to phone calls (more erotic talk with masturbation) the erotic chat was/is combined with laughter and everyday talk …our chats were everything from intimate…personal…real life issues and included emotional support from both our sides…one big diff. we were both entirely honest with each other from the start… So he got the courage to come meet me for coffee…funny how everything seems to start with coffee!! Well unbelievably unimaginable our cyber sex, ph sex, and reality…. were all the same…the chemistry we share is totally mindblowing. So we are still doing all this and the reality is i cant get enough of him…through it all just sitting next to him brings me entire peace such a feeling of connection i cld never imagine and he says i do the same for him. As a woman i wld say i have a pretty good sex drive, have the confidence..but this has taught me and still is teaching me a whole different dimension to who i am, what i want, how to understand what my body wants and express it verbally. And exactly how does a mans body work? You might think you know if female…go look at the actual functioning of a mans body medically. Anyway to end off…. beware ph/cyber/cam sex can lead to an actual meeting, feelings become incredibly intense. If you are married or involved and are not happily so..i really would advise you to stay away from from these chats. First resolve your unhappiness before you look for happiness in another person while involved. Also they say by the year 2013, the only place to really meet someone will be via the internet? For now im very happy.


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