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Love and lies : where does infidelity start ?

by Agnes a Paris Mon Jan 30th, 2006 at 03:28:36 PM EST

Update [2006-1-30 15:36:34 by AgnesaParis]: Churches are so empty that even God would feel lonely if He popped in. Those faithful no longer look up to the clergy to get inspiration and speaking in the name of God sounds awfully suspicious these days.
The Church has lost ground as an institution. It takes an old man passing away to bring it to the fore front, and that old man is mourned as the one who stood up to a totalitarian regime for his fellow citizens to be able, just like him, to travel abroad and come back to kiss their native soil. A man who fulfilled his duty to exhaustion, triggering equal respect among the atheists and the believers.

Political institutions are not that popular either. We might even be seeing people claim the right not to vote.

Yet there is one force bringing people into God's house at least once in their life, and relying on a representative of a secular institution to issue a statement they accept as binding.
This force is the ultimate ideal, the only left when all ideals created by mankind to forego the fear to die have collapsed.
This ideal concentrates all the need to believe that used to rest with other ideals. The restless quest for this ideal is our modern Graal ; there is no hope left if we leave it behind us.

Without that force, men are wolves for each other. They can also be wolves for each other for conqueer it.
Love is a two edged sword. Never has it been invested with so many expectations. The age expectancy grew, and so did the divorce rate. A couple proudly claiming to have spent half a century together embodies the ultimate accomplishment.

Marriage used to be a "serious" matter that could only be safely handled by the parents, and the young couple eventually came to find an arrangement to live side by side without bothering each other. What mattered was to keep the social structure unaltered. As long as appearances were safe, what took place behind the scenes was no offense. No matter how many mistresses your husband has, as long as you get your monthly allowance for your dress designer, hairdresser, jewelers and all the occupations necessary to keep a decent woman busy.

That seems to have changed. One cannot accept compromise and secrecy when the Graal is at stake. The boundaries of infidelity have become uncertain.
Even the old safe rule according to which a husband has to right to occasionally go astray as long as his feelings for his spouse remain altered, whilst she does no harm as long as she does not get physically committed, no longer seems to be universally accepted.

Marriage has not the monopoly of infidelity, as it no longer has the monopoly of love. The pain of splitting up is compounded when money is at stake and the man far too often ends up a sitting duck.
I may be wrong, but I don't think infidelity is less of a wound when one is married. The way the couple deals with the consequences is influenced by having children and wealth in common.

Infidelity stands as the ultimate obstacle on the quest for the Graal. But where does it stand exactly?
When one starts fantasizing about someone else? Seeing that someone without their partner's knowledge?
Engaging in sexual intercourse without emotional implications? Refraining from any physical contact but being madly in love ?

The key word to come up with an answer may be: ability not to share the burden of grief.
I was deeply impressed by an 18th century novel written by Mme de la Fayette "The princess of Cleves".
The princess of Cleves is married to a man she is fond of, but in love with someone else. As she cannot find the inner strength to resist temptation, she begs her husband for support by disclosing her feelings.
The result is appalling : grief drives her husband to death, guilt drives her to convent, and 3 unhappy people result from her not being able to bear the weight of her guilt.

Feeling compelled to tell the truth about one's misconduct is a typical example of the way to hell being paved with good intentions.
Sure, not disclosing is lying, but at least the peace of mind of your spouse is not altered, and you support the consequences of your acts. Only love can help carry that burden of guilt.
So here comes my answer: infidelity is about not loving your partner more than you love your own comfort and we too often mix up comfort and freedom.
I would even dare to say : being faithful is about loving your partner more than you care for your own ego.
What do you think?

I think I agree with your last two paragraphs before whatdoyouthink, but on the previous, we have some serious differences, tough apparently both based on life experiences.

On one hand, marriage - I am in the ever widening circle of Europeans who do not 'enter God's house [or that of the State] to issue a statement they accept as binding' - not out of doubt in longer-term relations, but that formal marriage really helps it. I really don't want to expound on this, just on one issue: while your 18th century novel describes three people destroyed by telling the truth, untold truth can act as slow poison that ruins both the relation(s) and the people involved.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jan 30th, 2006 at 04:10:26 PM EST
This is a great post, Agnes, and a really interesting topic for discussion.  

It also is one of the few things I can talk about with some authority -- NO! not because of all my marriages!  C'mon people! -- because it's an area I've done actual (ACADEMIC!) research.

There's so much in here, that it's difficult to find a starting place.  I guess my first point would be that marriage has, until very recently, in our cultures been, basically, a legal contract not unlike property contracts.  This is still underlying the ideals of it being "romantic" or "holy."

Our churches were more involved when they were basically governing bodies.  But marriage is still a contract.  I've gotta run some errands, but more later.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jan 30th, 2006 at 05:13:08 PM EST
Great that I thought about a topic on which you will be happy to contribute Izzy. Less doubting, all of a sudden :-)

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Mon Jan 30th, 2006 at 05:25:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My views:

Truth is sometimes better hidden. I don't share the same things with every person. Some get certain things, others get other things. This is valid for partners, friends, families.

As for partners, it's only because we live in a judeo-christian heritage world bound with all sorts of taboos about mixed relations that we have all these feelings of guilt that prevent us from exploring other relations while having a partner. These feelings of guilt then naturally becomes boundaries of forbidennes, of fantsay, that make us want to explore what's beyond them.

To me it's all unfair, there is no written law that says that you can't love several people at the same time. I personally have never been unfaithful to a partner, because I was bound by these taboos. But I have been in a pair of adulterous relations, and in both cases these have reinforced that person's link to their own partner. That person and their partner were even closer together afterwards, and in those cases I was happy not to be too engaged myself, so in the end everyone was really happy. As long as we lied, of course. The truth never got out, and it's better this way.

by Alex in Toulouse on Mon Jan 30th, 2006 at 05:22:15 PM EST
there is no written law that says that you can't love several people at the same time
good point Alex.
But as Izzy says, marriage is a contract with a sometimes strong "property" component. It might be that this mainstream also influences the social perception of how partners, even if not married, should and should not act.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Mon Jan 30th, 2006 at 05:52:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess I am a typical godless modern youth.  I don't know what marriage even means anymore.  I have friends and family who have married for the most absurd reasons and who are often either in cruel relationships, or divorced.  I've been with my boyfriend for almost 7 years and we have no plans to marry, but no plans to part.  I don't see what Church or the law have to do with committment and fidelity.  Are you keeping your word to God, to the Justice of the peace, or to your partner?

As for where infidelity begins, I think that is up to the couple in question to decide.  I don't see how not divulging your infidelity is better for the spouse/partner.  You might successfully avoid hurting them, but you are not allowing them the right to make decisions about their life with all of the necessary information in hand.

I guess I am cynical.  I'm glad I live in an era when there are repercussions for men's infidelity and acknowledgement that both men and women are sucseptible to it and the ability to discuss it all in the open.  If progress means an often inequitable institution has been stripped of seriousness, I'm ok with that.  

And before you rush to judgement, I know many happily, healthily married couples whom I admire a great deal.  I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with marriage.  I just don't see that kind of committment as a Holy Grail.  For me.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Jan 30th, 2006 at 05:32:24 PM EST
this is a serious diary.
It is not about finding out the one best way.
I also hope that this diary does not trigger some painful recollections. should this happen, I apologise in advance.
One of the purposes of this thread is try and find out what influences our modern perception of fidelity. More of an academic than introspective approach, actually, but feel free to go for the one you're fine with.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Mon Jan 30th, 2006 at 05:34:56 PM EST
begins, but I know it when I'm doing it.  Or rather, knew it when I was doing it, because I am alone now, partially because I was addicted to "women I've never had" as the old country and western song goes.  

All and all a rather childish preoccupation with sex and "romance."  I'm a male in my seventh decade and I still don't understand this part of my life although I think about it often.  

It is like looking back at an incomprehensible movie of someone else.


by Keone Michaels on Tue Jan 31st, 2006 at 12:11:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I doubt whether preoccupation with sex and romance can be qualified as childish.
Emotions are a powerful and positive force, the main problem most of us have is  channelling them.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Tue Jan 31st, 2006 at 04:21:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is a problem when it hurts your partner, or would if he/she knew. If a person is fine with their partner doing it then why should anyone else care, it's their relationship, not ours. I'm personally fine with open casual relationships, i.e. if I'm not in love, if I am in love it's a very different story. On the other hand I can't stand the idea that I shouldn't be able to interact with female friends the same way I do with male ones.  Problems arise when the partners are incompatible in their attitude towards fidelity, when there is hypocrisy, selfishness, or just the unfortunate uncontrollable vagaries of emotions and desire.  People aren't perfect and occasionally do something to hurt their partners. At that point in addition to the pain the partner has to decide whether or not the relationship has to end.

 I can't say that there is much difference between men and women that I've known in this regard. Both have spanned the full spectrum of jealousy from intense to complete lack thereof, and both have been equally prone to infidelity.

by MarekNYC on Tue Jan 31st, 2006 at 01:05:17 AM EST
Problems arise when the partners are incompatible in their attitude towards fidelity

Total agreement. Jealousy is also a big relationship killer.
Like you, I hate not to be able to see my male friends the same as my girlfriends.
Unfortunately, many men are convinced that a male-female friendship cannot exist, because sex always is an issue, hence the difficulty some men have with their girlfriend seeing other male friends, even there is nothing wrong about it.
And from past experience I must say that most of time there is ambiguity, unless things have been clearly stated.

I fully understand that a man who has too naively blessed his partner seeing other men, then found himself dumped for one of those alleged "nothing but" friends, will be prone to suspicion in his subsequent relationship.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill

by Agnes a Paris on Tue Jan 31st, 2006 at 04:36:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The traditional Spanish approach to fidelity gives me the creeps. First, we have a saying in Spain about domestic violence: la maté porque era mía (I killed her because she was mine). Then there is the famous verse from a Zarzuela (Spanish minor opera genre): por el humo se sabe / dóonde está el fuego. / Del fuego del cari&ntide;o / nacen los celos (from the smoke you know where the fire is. From the fire of love jealosy is born).

Personally I am not jealous because I do not allow myself to feel like I own my partners. Like everything else, a couple is (should be) an association of free individuals as much as possible.

The problem is not infidelity in itself, but the lies that come from the feelings of guilt (and the desire to avoid conflict) associated with it. Once you start lying, it's hard to turn back, and it is the lying that does the most lasting damage to the relationship because ultimately relationships are built on trust.

As for bringing in God and Church into the whole thing, well, it hardly seems necessary, though clearly that is also a refleaction of my healthy Spanish anticlericalism...

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 31st, 2006 at 04:58:54 AM EST
Marriage in churches, now that is something with strong cultural differences. In some regions, everyone marries in a church, whatever their level, type or even existence of religiousity. Elsewhere there is both church and state wedding. At other places it is an either-or.

When I was a child on holiday at my grandparents, because my (atheist) parents wanted us to keep up a pretense, I had to go to church (Catholic, in a village of mostly assimilated Swabians [Germans immigrating c. 3 centuries ago]). In the one sermon I remember, in the first or second summer after the first free elections, the old priest was grumbling about couples or parents who come to him as if he'd ran some commercial service, wanting a wedding or baptism without any serious religious commitment. I could understand him.

This behavior has apperently become a permanent sore point for the priests. During the last two church weddings (and one of the funerals) I attended, half the priest's sermon was about the need of real religious commitment, which came across as patronising, furiously annoying holyrollerisms, but it was their church and their customs, so they had every right to insist.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jan 31st, 2006 at 08:20:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I had similar experiences of friends and relatives considering completely natural to have a church wedding not because of their religious beliefs, but because it was more celebrating an exceptional day by staging it in an exceptional place and "it is much more beautiful to have the pictures taken in a church" (!)
Some were genuinely surprised to learn that they needed a baptism certificate to be able to get married by a priest and accused the Church of being "obstructive".
In such a context, church wedding is often a commercial service, and even if it is not my case, I find it disrespectful for people who go to church out of genuine belief.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Tue Jan 31st, 2006 at 08:51:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Huh...after 30 years of marriage I should probably write a book: "how to survive...".Infidelity is common and always had been but things changed lately with women being more independent (financially and also emotionally) and here we are. Here in Australia they just don't know what to do cause more then 50% of marriages result in divorce...It never was a great solution for anyone man woman or children involved...it's rather catastrophe with terrible consequences...
And happiness ...modern people assume that they HAVE to be happy , that life is all about being la, la happy all the time...It's not the case...
But then again it's a really long story and EVERYBODY MUST learn through his own experience...there is no other way...

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Thu Feb 2nd, 2006 at 12:28:37 AM EST

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