Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Abyss of Human Nature

Come, dear reader, and gaze into the abyss of what happens to human nature when man can find no purpose to worship higher than himself.

Listen to these chilling rationalizations from married women who have affairs. In this regard I'm sure that married men who have affairs give rationalisations that are probably just as revolting - this is merely the particular material I have in front of me right now. Since GS has observed that my posts sometimes come across as leaning towards misogyny, let me emphasise that my words are about humanity in general, not just women.

Tall, strong-featured and dressed in a cashmere sweater and wool trousers, Sheila is the kind of woman you see in the aisles of Waitrose, the front row of the school carol service. But once every fortnight or so she tells Peter, 48, a company director, that she's meeting a (well-briefed) girlfriend for dinner. Instead she goes to a motel room to see her lover, Michael, also 46, a medical sales rep whom she met at a conference.
Shylock's advice - if your married friend is asking you to be her cover for an ongoing affair, it's time to find some better friends.
Thousands of women like Sheila are enjoying what they believe to be no-strings flings. Having witnessed the devastation divorce wreaked on their parents' generation, they have no desire to end their marriages. Instead they are searching for variety in an otherwise humdrum routine.
Ha ha ha! Yes, clearly they've certainly learned the really important lessons about the problems of divorce. Not the ones about the importance of maintaining a happy, honest and loving relationship. No, the ones about staying in the marriage but doing whatever the hell you please.

Okay, so to my mind Sheila seems like a horrible human being. But how does Sheila justify this to herself? Surely she's at least a little guilty about this whole thing? Let us go and take our visit, as Mr Eliot put it:
'I love Peter dearly,' Sheila says. 
Generally, it is pointless to argue over the definition of a word like 'love'. But in this case I'm willing to make an exception and say... No. No you don't. You just like getting stuff out of him, and it's been so long that you've forgotten there was ever a difference. As it turns out, she admits as much:
'He's a good husband, and father. I like cooking with him and gossiping about the neighbours. He's my pal and I'd never want to lose that. 
So, does this make your behaviour better, or worse?
Sex with Michael is a purely separate thing; it's about erotic abandonment, being seen as just a woman rather than as Peter's wife, or "the doctor" or a mum.
I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that for Peter, her having sex with Michael is not in fact a purely separate thing. But she's not done justifying herself:
Any working mother will know what I mean. Every woman needs something that is hers alone. Some of my friends ride, some sing in choirs, I have Michael.'
Yes, of course. Helping out at a bake sale, riding a bicycle, getting boned by a pharmaceutical rep - what's the difference?As Sesame Street would say - one of these things is not like the other. Note too the cynically self-serving way she tries to claim this as a symptom of the stress of being a 'working mother', which all women will understand.
Most people, women and men alike, will understand your feelings that a marriage after 20 years is not as exciting as it was at the start. But for the sake of all that is right in the world, I hope that they don't all understand why you're having an affair.
To properly understand Leila's motivation, let me remove a few extraneous words from the previous paragraph:
'I ...  I ... my... I'd ...I... my... I ...'

The rest is just noise.
The number of people having affairs is impossible to know, as few are truthful about their sex lives, but the recent Way We Are Now nationwide survey conducted by Relate showed that 34 per cent of women respondents admitted to being unfaithful, compared with 32 per cent of men.
Those, my friends, are some truly terrible odds, for both men and women.

Listen to just how mercenary they are about the whole thing:
Laura, 51, a reflexologist from Hertfordshire, with a teenage son, has had three affairs over the past 10 years with men she has met on various websites.
She uses specialised software to make sure her computer shuts down moments after she uses it and its history is wiped clean. She has two mobiles: one for general use and one for EMAs (extramarital affairs, to use the jargon), which can only be accessed by a pin number and is set on silent mode so that her husband, Brian, an events manager, can't hear texts arriving. She checks at the same time every day before hiding it – separately from the sim card – in her Christmas-present drawer. 'Then if Brian did find it I'd say I was going to give it to our cleaner,' she explains, cradling her large glass of merlot.
You can feel the ice running through this woman's veins. As a matter of writing, I do enjoy the way the author subtly and expertly puts the knife in with the line about the merlot.

But let me tell you the part that is the most difficult. The Dog That Did Not Bark in this whole story is the feelings of the spouse they're cheating on. It seems that none of these women give any evidence that they've stopped to think about how painful it must be for their husband of 20 years that their wife is having an affair. Their only thoughts about their husbands relate to how they can avoid being caught.Now, human nature being what it is, it does not surprise me that people are selfish. But how can you be married to someone for that long, and not actually find their feelings to be an important consideration? How can you be so stupid to not realise that once your start having an affair, you will eventually get caught, and your marriage will be over, with horrible consequences for a lot of innocent parties?
Like most of the women I spoke to, Minna worried not so much about her husband learning of her affair as about what discovery would mean for their children. 'He's an adult but if they discovered this other side to me it would overturn their cosy little world,' she says with a shudder.
He's an adult. Ergo, that's where the obligation ends. And as for the kids, she's worried partly (and correctly) that it will be very sad and disruptive consequences for them. But my guess is that she's also worried because her kids (if they find out) will justifiably hate her. The feeble excuses she makes for herself will not wash with them. As for her husband, it seems like she couldn't give a toss.

Of course, their rationalizations are actually dreary and predictable - evil is banal, after all. 

Plank 1 - I'm actually doing this FOR the marriage:
Laura is adamant that her affairs are saving her marriage rather than putting it at risk. 
Great, so tell your husband! I'm sure he'll agree.

Plank 2  (which of course contradicts plank 1) - Actually my husband forced me into it.
'Brian irritates me, like all my long-married friends are irritated by their husbands. He leaves the loo seat up, burps and expects his washing to be done as if by magic. He's got a bit fat and resents any suggestion that he lose weight.
Meanwhile, I presume that she has kept the same figure she had at age 20, and puts out just as much as before.

But that's all a fig-leaf actually. Here's why she's actually doing it:
I'm looking to be adored, to be treated like a goddess much more than I'm looking for sex. 
Fewer things are as ugly to witness as naked selfishness stripped of all pretensions. 

As if this all weren't enough, the author finishes with what is clearly the pressing question underneath all this: 
But can a woman really have her ego bolstered, without losing her heart? 
If there is any justice in the world, I certainly hope not.

1 comment:

  1. My pop-psychology guess is that men are just as likely to do it but less likely to offer elaborate rationalizations or self-actualization justifications for it -- rather, they do it because they can, and because they want to, without soul-searching about it. Whether one is more noxious than the other is a question for the philosophers.

    But the second-to-last quote is the tell, IMO. I've often suspected that affairs are not so much about sex as about the fantasy of relationships without the real work that comes with actual grown-up long-term relationships.