Thursday, June 9, 2011

On the Evolution of Marriage

Jessica Bennett at The Daily Beast has a fascinating piece on monogamy and marriage. Money quote:

[M]onogamy is still the deeply ingrained—or delusional—rule to living happily ever after, and our views toward infidelity are comically na├»ve. "We cheat—and we also roundly disapprove of cheating," [author of Marriage Confidential Pamela] Haag writes—to the extent that we find the action more reprehensible than human cloning (really). It's the ultimate hypocrisy—lodged into every corner of our social existence, leading to the downfall of politicians, executives, religious clerics, athletes… the list goes on. It depends on what survey you examine, but more than half of Americans cheat, and yet 70 to 85 percent of adults think cheating is wrong. "We are fooling ourselves if we think people are as against cheating as they say they are,” says Jenny Block. “Jude Law cheated on Sienna Miller, for God's sake. JFK cheated on Jackie. Have we learned nothing from these scandals?”
What I loved best about this piece, however, were the comments that were posted afterward. One satirical comment in particular is from someone who identifies himself as DexterVanDango:

Most of you women say that monogamy is preferable because it emphasises loyalty. That monogamy protects our children better. But many of my married male friends complain bitterly that you women are nothing but sperm vampires. As soon as you have squeezed some children out of us your interest in sex with us dies.... And absurd as it sounds, we men are more truly loyal than you women are. For no matter how much we men want to have sex with hundreds of other women, it is rare indeed that we lose all interest in sex with our wives (provided of course that she has not developed into a cruel personality). In other words we men want our cake and want to eat it too, while you women want to hang on to your piece of cake long after you've lost interest in eating it.. but you don´t want anyone else to sample it, either....Sadly, for the most part you women´s attitude is still, "Concentrate exclusively on me for as long as I'm interested in you.. Then you can live like a celibate until I can replace you."
Delicious! But there is a sad truth to this comment. We can't possibly imagine why Tiger Woods would cheat on his lovely wife, or why Erik Benet would do the same to Halle Berry, or why Jesse James would cheat on Sandra Bullock with the tatted skank he chose. It's too easy to dismiss it as sex addiction or sexually compulsive behavior, or else nearly every cheating husband would be sexually compulsive or addicted. It's just not that widespread a disease.

I think the answer boils down to trust. A husband or wife who engages in extramarital sex does so to a great degree because there has been an erosion of trust, which is the foundation of any long-term committed relationship (LTCR). With that erosion comes a communication breakdown where, no matter what is discussed, there is no connection, no empathy/sympathy, no listening. Then it becomes too difficult for one person to say, "I'm feeling neglected, or scared, or shut out." It becomes easier just to turn to pornography, or internet relationships (recall that Weiner states he'd never met any of the six women who had received his pictures over the years), or actual extramarital sex. I think it takes real courage for couples in LTCRs to have that discussion openly, with no fear, because if you can't talk about the most difficult of subjects then, really, how strong is the relationship?

A wise man once advised that men, when they agree to enter into a LTCR, need to be ready to give up short-term thinking. By that, he meant short-term, recreational relationships. But, in light of how marriage appears to be undergoing a redefinition, I think for some this advice may need revisiting.

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