Contemporary “sex healer” Esther Perel thinks we may have got it wrong when it comes to our ideas about love, marriage, and fidelity. Basically, we’re in denial and should embrace a more progressive view, embracing infidelity not as an aberration but as a necessary norm.
I know what you’re thinking: that’s progress?
In an article for Slate, writer Hanna Roisin conducts an interesting Q&A with the worldly wise therapist and author of the book Mating in Captivity, who suggests that North Americans are unimaginative and punitive when it comes to extramarital affairs, viewing them in the context of ‘betrayal’ and ‘trauma’ rather than seeing them as the dynamic reflection of a desire to be truly alive that they really are.
According to Perel, contemporary marriage, among the higher social orders, anyway, is too happy, too content, too boringly companionable and we all know where all that ‘stifling’ happiness leads — that’s right, directly into the open arms of your tennis coach, the one with the talent for making you feel alive again.
Many couples, argues Perel, love each other, have no intention of splitting up, but use affairs to essentially supplement their marriages —your union may be happy but is it perfect? Not likely. So if the guy leering at you across the gym floor can make you feel like the person you would most like to be as opposed to the mommy/wife drone you’ve become, well, why not go for it?
Monogamy as a tenet of marriage is something we need to reexamine, says Perel, who reminds us that once upon a time premarital sex was frowned upon, too. Rather than make a virtue out of honesty, she suggests that keeping a secret, like infidelity, ultimately can be a protective act. The urge to tell, however, is characterized as an aggressive thing to inflict on your partner.
Infidelity, good. Honesty, bad. Does anyone else feel like the world has been turned upside down?
Perel points to House of Cards’ fictional married couple, the Underwoods, as an example of a uniquely supportive union. If you haven’t seen the show and don’t know the ins and outs of the Underwood marriage, then the comparison will fall flat. But think of Claire and Francis as a white collar Bonnie and Clyde combined with a smattering of Paul and Karla. In short, it’s a union that’s heavy on darkness and short on light.
Though Perel is in some ways just playing with ideas rather than considering their effect on hearts and minds, I can’t help but think that should we ever choose to consciously make virtues out of our most selfish desires and motives — and at the expense of those who love us most — then we won’t be embracing progress but sticking to old fashioned selfishness.