I had written a review of The End of the Affair, the film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, for Blogcritics – a film, I felt captured an affair as realistically as any I’ve seen, for there is both romance and pain, and at the end, though this may not always be the case in life, Sarah, one of the lovers and the adulteress, must pay the ultimate price for her perceived sin and for this, she must pay with her life; the end of the film, after all those months of amorous and sexy and soft light lovemaking will end with Sarah, exhausted (who wouldn’t be) and washed up and lying on her death bed, waiting for the boom to fall, the Christian price that one pays for adultery and to know Greene is to know that he struggled somewhat with thorny concepts of right and wrong, particularly as they related to the divine or to religion and faith.
In our lives, there is a more every and ordinary day faith, and though we believe in a god, or most of us anyway tend to believe in some higher power (and I’ll say god for shorthand, but one could just as easily say Tao – which i devoted graduate school to studying, or whatever, it all adds up to some force greater than ourselves and i don’t want to get bogged down in semantics…), unless you are an atheist of course, most believe there is a force bigger than oursleves, and that force is often used as our guide and our moral compass; the thing that keeps us in check.
A friend wrote that there is always temptation everywhere, which is true, but that to give into that temptation is often to bring about devastation – a fact I would most often agree with. Rare is the affair that goes undetected and passes without one or two or more than a few lives being utterly shattered. My friend agreed, and said that most films that deal with adultery and that are churned out by Hollywood tend to glamorize the whole thing and I cannot disagree. These are the affairs that have all the wist and the want and none of the wan or the suicidal. They are the roll in the three-thousand thread count sheets or pima cotton all pure and instead of being sordid; such affairs are almost put on a pedestal.
Our sense of reality is shattered, and our emotions, our feelings, our sense of right and wrong, disappear and we are shot high up into the heavens in a font of romantic love which holds us there like babies on a spout until someone comes along and turns the water off and we come crashing to the ground hard and then, we face the consequences. Yet still, we do it. As many have said, we do it because while it does last, it feels fucking great and that is all the reason we need. When we want to, we can have memories as short as that of a gnat – we want to forget about past sins and the pain they caused. We want to live in the here and now, and shit, if the here and the now feel so damn good, it’s not that we’ve forgotten that we’ve a partner at home or a spouse, it’s that we have found a really clever way to rationalize it, because the heart and the body wants what it wants and we will do most anything to fill that want. If that were not the case, then fewer people would have affairs, and while the statistics are going down, there is still the idea that “most people” as a different friend said, are somewhat involved.
Now how much or how little they dip their toe into the seas of infidelity is no business of mine, but it all comes back to that book that I read called The Myth of Monogamy, which as its title suggested, was essentially a treatise informing us that monogamy is not natural. Well, this is and is not true. There are monogamous species; there are certain cliff albatross that are lifelong monogamous, ducks of all things, I’ve heard, are monogamous as are swans; penguins most certainly are (and they fascinate me because before they even mate, they sit and stare at each other, toe-to-toe, for six months before mating – I remember watching this on the Discovery Channel and being fascinated by this. How they had such self-control! I thought, or perhaps they are smarter than us and in this staring there is a kind of test to see how long they can really stand each other; if they can’t stand to see that face every minute of every day for six months, then by god, they better not hook up for surely it will end in penguin heartache. Maybe we should stand toe-to-toe and stare at each other for six months before making any major life-changing decisions instead of being so damn impulsive. I don’t know. All I know that for as much as monogamy may be a myth among humans (and I’m not sure it is, as much as I believe it is a choice, but I’ll get to that), that I do know that in certain animals, monogamy does exist and it exists in the most curious of creatures, but it is there in the natural world to be found. I also believe it exists in the world of humans, that other part of the natural world, and although I’ve been told it’s not natural, I’m not sure I know what that means.
Does that mean that these two authors took a poll of everybody on earth and said, Do you want to fuck other people? OR, Have you fucked or thought about fucking other people? And then compiled all the data and said, A-ha! If they did, they certainly didn’t come to my house. I guess I haven’t sat around thinking about screwing other people so there must be something profoundly wrong with me – or maybe it’s that I’m in a profound and deep, penguin denial. Who knows.
Certainly, we are all aware of temptation; it is there. But is it tempting? It’s only tempting if you are lacking something that you feel the other person can givef you and more, that you are unwilling to let your partner have a go at helping you reconcile. In other words, if your partner does not know of this part of you that feels lacking, then how can s/he ever help you reconcile it? So then off you trudge, feeling self-righteous because you’re not getting all of your needs met, but in reality, the lover can’t meet all of your needs either.
As I said to my friend, I think we get different needs met by different people and it seems to me immature to expect that any one person could fulfill all of anyone else’s needs. As I wrote before, the best we can find is that person who comes the closest – the one who fits with us as closely as possible and whose neuroses complement our neuroses in a way that makes sense and doesn’t drive both of us crazy. More, we need a person who has a level of passion and desire, and that desire must be for us and for all things in life – a certain attitude to life – that again, complements our own. Without those and other things, for this is simplified, then we are doomed to fail. It’s inevitable that if you are drawn to your partner but you are an exotic, dark thing and they want a WASPY light thing, then it’s inevitable that they will eventually go forth and seek. What’s more, the heart wants variety – or some part of the variety wants variety (remember the story from Animal Husbandry and the cow secretions? If not, I suggest reading it). Variety is the spice of life, that old cliché but we know that it’s true. So, in order to keep our marriages or our commitments alive and exciting, there must be sort of constant flux while at the same time certain stability and order that makes us feel safe. The wife must be Madonna and Whore – the archetypes, and the husband must be both father and lover. We all need both of these things and more, and more than this, we also need a partner who is our best friend. It’s a tough bill to fill, no doubt, and perhaps if we put more forth into it (or staring, back to the penguins), then there would be less divorce. Too often, it is one of these things that draws us to the person will choose to settle down with – but rarely a combination of all that we need. We feel passion and say Amen. We feel kinship and say Amen. But we do not necessarily look hard for all of the requirements, to put it technically, to satisfy ourselves. Under those circumstances, it seems inevitable that we will go and seek that piece that is missing on the side.
The thing about that is that the thing on the side doesn’t give the full one hundred percent either. A lover rarely gives a stable home or a real friendship, though certainly that can happen. But that’s easy; a lover doesn’t have to be there for all the domestic dramas and the ins and outs and the pain in the ass things we have to deal with in every day life. In short, the lover has a sweet deal. All they have to do, usually, is fill one or two simple needs, which is pretty simple given that we see that person on a limited basis because by definition, the relationship is clandestine and meetings are hard to arrange. Anyone can be perfect one day out of a week, or one day out of several months, or a weekend out of several months. Try that person on a daily basis and they may not be so great and you may go running back to your spouse. In truth, that person / the lover, is rarely going to be put to such a test and so they do look perfect in contrast to our nagging or not always gorgeous spouse who gets colds and dirty feet and moods and illness and family obligations and etc. Who in the world can be held up to a lover who is clearly put on a pedestal?
I’m not saying a lover doesn’t have much to recommend, all I’m saying is that if you took the relationship to (and I hate this expression but it applies,) “the next level”, you may find yourself yearning for your other mate again. There are times, however, when that is not the case. When two married people meet each other and fall in love with each other. They fall so deeply in love and seem so well matched, and indeed, may well be better matched than the pre-existing marriage that they are better off together. In those instances, divorces are eventually had and none of it is pretty, but somehow, in time, much time, the years go by, the hurts soften, and everyone realizes that although the circumstances of meeting could have been better, they are all better off because everyone in time finds someone who is better for them. And let’s face it, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t and don’t want to be in a marriage with someone who doesn’t want to be involved with me. If my husband or someone wants to be with some chick at work or in the mall or in the supermarket or wherever and meets her through some convention or whatever, then by god, please do leave me because whether she’s really right for him or not, I’m not really interested in being made into the wife-monster while she sits there like some golden goddess while I slowly lose my mind, knowing my husband is having an affair but listening to him defend it because although he has “justified it” and has his “reasons” that are “valid” he still can’t bring himself to tell me about it because deep down he knows that cheating is and always was, hurtful. Leave me if you have to, but god, don’t disrespect and lie to me. If some aging divorcee with bad tits and greasy hair who works in publicity is right for him (or fill in type here ___), then by god, go with God…! Out! I don’t wish to be subordinated to someone I don’t even respect, and anyone should have the courage to go and seek what they really want because you live once.
But this business of having affairs while being married and wanting to stay married is a bit of a sticky wicket. The French seem to have got it down, but only mostly because they don’t make a big secret of it and it’s often the wife who has the yay or the nay over the girlfriend or mistress. It is the wife that the husband will respect and the mistress he will use and even lie to to get what he wants. He may buy her expensive gifts, but surely the gifts he buys his wife will be even more expensive as a sort of thank you for putting up with and as a way of showing some respect. I’m not saying money can buy your way out of doing something that is ultimately rather disrespectful, only that in Europe there seem to be more affairs, but they are done more respectfully, if that makes any sense. That the wife is guarding her nest egg and if she doesn’t approve of the mistress, believe me, the husband will listen to the wife for he knows she is wise (the respect and friendship are still there) and he will find someone more “suitable” and who is not necessarily after his money, which, let’s face it, is also the wife’s money. The wife is protecting both of their interests by keeping one eye on her husband’s affairs, so to speak, because she is interested more in keeping her own house in order. This is an agreement of sorts, and it is not necessarily one without love, though it may sound that way. In a way, it takes a certain maturity to realize that your husband may not be able to get everything he wants from you and that you may not be able to give it. But let me say here that this rule applies both ways – that just as the husband may have a mistress, it is then equally valid for the wife to take a lover, provided he does not threaten the family nest egg and will go quietly when his time is up and he has outlived his use or the novelty has worn off (and usually, the novelty does wear off.)
It’s hard to see this at the beginning of an affair. With this other person, everything seems an epiphany, his or her touch can send goose bumps down your spine and you know that you are fully alive as perhaps you have not felt in years. To me, that’s a problem with your marriage or with you – that perhaps you are lacking something in yourself and trying to fill that need in a less than productive way. If it’s ego validation you’re after, an affair will only offer a very short-lived validation, for let’s face it, any one of us can get laid and by pretty much anyone and so what does that prove? It certainly doesn’t prove that we are attractive or any great brain or anything that we are really looking to confirm. All it proves is that someone else is also insecure or lacking somehow and that you likewise fill a need for him or her. Like any love, it’s two people sharing a delusion, and while it can be nice while it lasts, without anything real to back it up, it is ultimately pretty shallow. Getting laid does not prove you are attractive or a stud. Having an affair does not make you a lover like a Casanova – for Christ, you could be a terrible lover who grunts and gropes and doesn’t have a clue. Conversely, you may discover things about yourself that you never knew – but only if you find the right person. Here again I would argue that if that is the case, that if you find yourself really falling for this person, then perhaps there is something more here than just an affair – unless you are able to take that emotion and that feeling and somehow translate that into your home life, as some have argued, that “affairs strengthen marriages.”
To me, that sounds like a lot of bullocks, but perhaps it’s true. I don’t know. I think it’s possible for a short time anyway; that you’ll be in a better mood and therefore a better husband or wife for a while, but the source of this inspiration is somehow dirtied or less than pure. And I don’t mean sexually dirty, I mean that it is deceptive because your spouse is left to believe that it is they who bring you this joy, when in fact it is someone else. Oh, I know; what they don’t know can’t hurt them, but that’s not entirely true. What they sense and even if they can’t prove it, can hurt them terribly and that much I know for a fact. I would not need to find my husband chained to a lover to know that he is cheating. I would know because I know him and I know the signs. It would be in the way he kisses me (which would change) and the way he fucks me (which would likewise change) for we pick up different things form different people and are changed by everyone we, uh, touch.
One of the best books I ever read about an affair that seemed real to me was “By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.” It is one of the true greats and speaks of an affair with all of the beauty that can be inherent in a single afternoon – oh, you know, those afternoons where the city bustles down below and you are safely tucked away in your little B&B and the white curtain flutters in the wind and you’ve made love for the fourth time that day, and he’s said, “You’re amazing!” and you believed it, because that’s part of the deal, and then you lay around for a few hours having a glass of wine or tea or whatever and eating fruit and telling stories of your youth or your life that your spouse, you think, has long tired of, and so you feel like quite the stud, and she laughs and throws her neck back, and he lays on one hip and faces her and pushes her hair back etc and it’s all so damn sexy and erotic and this is truly the stuff of living – because at such moments, let’s face it, we feel more alive than perhaps we have in years; since we were teenagers. We are giddy with lust or infatuation. We flush easily, we blush and we laugh and talk incessantly and are fascinated by not only ourselves (because we do begin to look different – we look like we have a secret, a delicious one and we do… so an affair can be like an easy form of plastic surgery), but we are fascinated by the other person as we well. We confirm and validate each other and that is what most affairs are about. They are equal parts ego validation and equal parts rebellion — rebellion against Should and Ought, rebellion against mummy or daddy, rebellion against husband or wife on whom we’ve projected mummy or daddy, or some other nasty thing like “nag” or “bitch” or “bastard” or whatever or the person who is our “prison guard” and is the only thing that stands in the way of us and our supposed autonomy, as if an affair proved in anyway that one had real autonomy.
Real autonomy, we realize when we grow up, means that we all know that we have the choice, that as Squeeze said it, We are tempted by the fruit of another…” yet we make an active choice to accept the validation that yes, we could have an affair (which should in itself be validating), but that we choose not to, because we long ago thought through most of these thorny issues and made a decision about who we wanted to be with and hopefully, we choose smartly. Some marry young and they stay that way and grow together and more power to them. Personally, I too got involved young and didn’t have much sexual experience before that and in some ways, it’s a regret — but at the same time, how much experience do I need to know what is out there for me? Is three enough? Five? Ten? Fifteen? Fifty? Two hundred? How many people do you need to be with, or to fuck, before you know what you really want in life, or are so many of those experiences the same that you can know pretty much of the bat. As in life, most of us in love are pretty much the same. We are ordinary in our ways; no, fucking one person may be different from fucking another – there may be subtleties, but it’s not that different. The tone may be different, the pitch, the level of orgasm or thrill, but hopefully, you can find that and if you’re lucky, you find it fast.
All that said, I advise any young girl to not settle down and wait for Mr. Right, because I firmly believe in Mr. Right Now. I think you shouldn’t go about saving yourself as in some ways, I did. I think it’s worth exploring everything and you can do that without being a slut, though I have one girlfriend who is a self-confirmed “slut” (her word, not mine) and is “damn proud of it” and doesn’t regret a minute of it. She knows what she wants and now she’s been married for many years and would never cheat because she, like her husband, who was also like her, both know what is out there and they’ve kind of seen and done it all, and I do mean all, things that this Episcopal girl would never do and maybe that’s my loss, but I wouldn’t want it to be someone else’s loss. I just happen to have hit gold pretty early on, and lucky me. I hope my husband feels the same way, and while I know we’ve had our moments, perhaps he’s even had affairs – at times, it seemed so, to be sure, but then, he doesn’t know that I haven’t had affairs, does he. We can reassure each other til the cows come home, and perhaps if he trusted me, he would have told me a lot of things a lot sooner. Alas, he did not. That leave me in an interesting position, then doesn’t it, because it means that by rights then, I could go and do the same thing, as I’ve so often been encouraged to do. The thing is, I’m just not so sure what I’d get out of it.
Is there ever such a thing as real honesty about this kind of thing between two married or committed people, or must one partner always “find out” of the other’s infidelity? It seems to me that someone always finds out and that confessions are hard to come by, though that said, I did once make a confession and a full one and I’m glad of it. I don’t want a pat on the back for it. It’s hardly like I wanted to, but he asked and I had a choice. I could have kept lying, which would have been easier, or I could have just told the awful truth. Perhaps he would have kept lying – perhaps he still is. I can’t say. Perhaps I never told the whole truth. Who knows, right? That is the risk you take when you betray a partner. Like meets like, and you will reap what you sow, unless you’re with a fucking saint, and I’ve tried to be that too but I have to tell you, it’s really freaking boring.
I now find that I want to live vicariously through all those folk who formed Fleetwood Mac, for they were all screwing each other, like one big hippie commune of flying purple gauze and ankle bracelets and some great music came out of it – Same for Carly Simon and her You’re So Vain (“this song is about your father,” my mother would say and crank the car radio), which as corny as it may be, is still a brutally honest and fucking great song. I like Carole King for the same reason – because she’s been out there and gotten fucked and hurt and yet she’s loved and been loved and although Tapestry is one of the saddest albums I ever heard at age fifteen, it was the only one I played again and again because it struck me as so curiously adult, and no, I didn’t get it all, but I got it enough to know that this was something I wanted to feel. Then there are the big fuck you songs, like Gloria Gaynor or my favorite version by Cake, “I will survive…”. The Cake version is more updated and more droll, and for this reason, I like it more. Maybe because it’s more GenX and just fuck you without any big emotion and that’s just me, but I love that. I also, god help me, liked Alanis Morrisette singing “You Oughta Know” despite it’s popularity because it was real and heartfelt and she belted it out and basically, “outed” her lover with no shame and no thought to herself or how she would be judged. Same goes for Aimee Mann – who I adore and used to pass on the street in Boston all the time and who, without airs, always said “hi” – and her Voices Carry, because it’s a song about being a mistress and being told to Keep it down now. As he writes,
“She might over hear…” he said, “shut up, shut up, shut up, o God, can’t you keep it down…voices carry….” I heard some of the same heartache on the songs she wrote for Magnolia – poor Aimee is either a really great liar, or, she’s getting her heart broken a lot and that pisses me off, because I want so much for a good and kind man to swoop her up and see her beauty and her strength, though I suspect that like me, she is perceived as “difficult and needy” – those two dirty words, when in actuality, the whole human race is difficult and needy.
The bottom line, after all this is this; I spent years of my life (this was ages ago) devoted to this guy in university who at the time, I thought was so pure and good and loyal, only to find out three years later that he had been cheating on me the whole time with a girl who wore a rhinestone “A” for her first name on her over-sized glasses. I had let this guy do awful things to me, treat me terribly, but at the time, it seemed all worth it because, sigh, we were “in love.” Never mind that he beat the crap out me, that the police wanted me to press charges etc. He loved me! When I found out about A, as I’ll call her, I can’t tell how betrayed I felt. Not only had I given him all that I had, but I too had other opportunities with boys who, let’s face it, were in fact better than (let’s call him) “B.” Men who were more attractive, kinder, would have loved me. But no. I wanted B. Be who wanted A and was fucking A with the rhinestone initial and the big ass and the zero sense of fashion, so every summer while I was at Vogue, he B and A hunkered down and lived as a couple. Three years and I had lived like a nun, never cheated, though god knows, had the opportunity for was popular and had a Vespa and was, oh novelty, European. The point is, I had given him not so much what I wanted, but what I felt obliged to so. Having no sense of self, I felt only lovable because B loved me, so when I found out about A, I was, I determined unworthy. He had used me for his public image, for his popularity, because I was the “it girl” to be involved with, but deep down, he was better suited to A. For the record, I never listened to Your So Vain and thought of B. I listened to Gibby screaming through a microphone at Butthole Surfer’s shows and that seemed more fitting somehow. The point is, B., I found out, wound up with someone who looks just like A. I was never right for him all along, so no matter how good or perfect I tried to be, no matter how much I let him hit me or gave him, I would never be enough. Today, he, and this is really ironic, works for a nonprofit group “helping” others; this is hard to reconcile with the man on whom I had to call the police three out of five nights. Thank God he hooked up with A, because he did me a great favor and I realized and woke up and got the fuck out of dodge, but not before taking care of a few things that I’ll leave to your imagination.
B. just followed his nature, as we all will. B is all hollow and flash. He is someone who projects an exterior that is pleasing but there is little behind it. I saw a picture of his wife on the Internet and I wondered if he does to her what he did to me. I wondered if he cheats on her the way he cheated on me. I wonder if she knows, and I couldn’t help but notice how much she looks like his mother. B has built a life for himself; he is a good boy; active in his church, working for a nonprofit, and good for him, for maybe he changed, and god knows I did – for if someone hit me like that today, I would not only file a report and file for divorce, I would do a great deal more than that. I would do whatever I had to do to protect myself and make sure that I am okay, and while I would not act out of vengeance, by god, I would not tolerate that. It’s hard to reconcile the me then with the me now. Maybe B has the same problem, though I doubt it. His Web site has a picture of a knight’s suit of armor and some nonsense family crest (he always wanted to be a WASP and had a real insecurity about this, for some reason, thus the relationship with me which was doomed from the start.) So B sees himself now as a knight; it is the first thing on his home page – which is, by the way, all about him and the good deeds that he does. Why advertise? Why not just do?
I’ve gone on long enough, and there are always so many angles to cover on this topic and no doubt, I’ve missed many that some of you will inform me off and I would be grateful. But for now, I will sing off with Fleetwood Mac…so lay me down in the tall grass and let me do my stuff…..
I am not her fool, but her corrupter of words, wrote Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. As a writer, like most here, we all know that anyone, but most especially a lover, can be our “corrupter of words.”
Great literature may be born of great affairs; certainly the evidence bears this out somewhat. Let us pray we are lucky to find not fools, but one who corrupts our words in the nicest and sweetest possible way… this is what the heart yearns for. Certainly, it is what I yearn for, but please, without all the messy and icky heartache. I’m too old for that now.