Between the Strauss-Kahn case, Arnold’s maid and the Weiner scandal, there has been a lot in the media lately about what constitutes cheating in a marriage. (I discussed this briefly in my last post). Everyone is looking for clues from the comments on these scandals, and checking it against her own morality.
Dan Savage, the Savage Love guy, advises straight people to take a page from the openness of gay relationships in which fidelity is prized less than stability. It’s an interesting idea, and not a wholly unpleasant one, but as American women, we are not conditioned to accept other partners, which may be why it’s far more common to cheat than to swing. So you have to fight that.
I also think that it’s hard to say how you feel about some things until you’re actually feeling them. For example, is kissing someone else going to break the spell of your marriage? What about fucking? I think it can go either way. Many people have told me that an affair can strengthen a marriage, because it causes both partners to re-evaluate the relationship, and often that means re-commit.
Re-committing, however, seems more common if men do the cheating, rather than women. Because one thing Savage fails to point out is that straight men are a lot less forgiving about their wife’s affair than straight women are about their husband’s. I don’t think men get over it. It fatally damages a man’s belief system about his wife if he discovers, or she confesses, to cheating. Obviously, some couples survive this, but more often if a woman cheats, they don’t. And even if they do, it’s like a handicapped version of what their marriage once was.
It does seem that everyone agrees that the urge to cheat is natural and normal. So perhaps it’s better not to put oneself in tempting situations, ie lots of time without one’s spouse, mixing with the opposite sex. This brings up the old When Harry Met Sally question: can men and women be friends? Or is this where all the trouble starts, especially as the marriage wears on? I hate to think that I can’t be friends with half the population. Male friendships are important to me, maybe even more so now that I am married, precisely because it’s one of two (the other being professional) respectable options open to me if I want to have intercourse (not that kind!) with adult men.
Issues about fidelity and relationships are personal and idiosyncratic. We are, however, guided by our cultural norms and social pressure, which vary according to sexual preference and gender. Whether or not those are equitable for both men and women, and whether or not they are reasonable or livable is another matter.
Tell me what you think in this non-scientific poll: