Sunday 28 May 2017

Infidelity isn't a deal-breaker but his life would be hell

There are many kinds of betrayal, and the sexual kind, reflects Aine O'Connor, is serious -- but not the worst

Aine O'Connor

WHEN they invented marriage, they were thinking: "Marry at 15, he'd be off hunting and gathering or crusading for months at a time, she'd die in childbirth by 20."

The average marriage would last five or six years, for most of which you were apart anyway. This pitching up daily at 5.40pm for 60 years to wonder what's for dinner was never in the plan.

It's no wonder that, though the ideal abides, there have been adaptations to the system: cohabitation, divorce and marriages that allow certain accommodations.

For most of history, it was widely accepted that husbands would stray, at the very least have experience of other women before marriage, whilst wives were supposed to arrive intact and untouched. This very intactness was, and in some cultures remains, a matter of honour, an honour worth killing over even. So it followed that although a cheating husband might be something to endure, a cheating wife was infinitely more serious.

The change in sexual mores in our society has been radical and swift, the intact brides thing is now almost weird, a straying husband is no longer something to be endured, but as recent news stories attest, we're very confused about infidelity.

The fairly constant and predictable parade of married British footballers bonking, it seems, any passing orange female, is most interesting in terms of the reaction to their wives.

Failure to exact hideous revenge and stomp off to the divorce court in their Louboutins leaves them open to accusations of being doormats, a shame to all women and of being only in it for the money

Dominique Strauss-Kahn had an infamous moment with a chambermaid in a New York hotel room -- the debate is not whether something happened, but whether it was consensual.

His wife, whom he apparently warned not to marry him because he was an incorrigible skirt-chaser, is sticking by him, sure that it was consensual, but she has not been faced with accusations of being a lily-livered, womanhood-demeaning gold-digger. Presumably because she has her own career and is French.

There was that Puddick man in London who was charged with harassment for using the internet to publicise his wife's affair with her boss. The affair went on for years and was admitted by both parties, but once over, both marriages remained intact.

Puddick described his acquittal, perhaps unfortunately, as a victory for "free speech and the small man".

When I was younger, I thought infidelity equals instant relationship termination (preferably with a good bit of pain for him). Now, 15 years, two kids, a mortgage and all of the other entanglements that a marriage involves later, I feel differently.

For a start, there are many kinds of betrayal and I no longer think that the sexual kind, despite how hung-up we are on it, is the worst. It's still serious, you made a promise after all, but I'm no longer sure that sexual infidelity is either necessarily meaningful, or that it matters so much, especially in the gigantic architecture of a marriage and family.

Maybe what you don't know really doesn't hurt you, maybe it's only wrong if you get busted ... there's a horde of factors from personality to pragmatism: one-off vs an affair; knowing and wanting to know; confession is honourable vs confession is cowardly.

It's entirely personal and I know now that I'd be very slow to end our marriage, over anything. Although that said, I'd be pretty quick to make the rest of his natural life hell.

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