July 8, 2007 at 1:27 am #22832
Note: this is gossipy type of journalism, but makes a good point: why should anyone care? If you live without judgement, you’d just accept it. hard to do, of course, if your relationship is threatened. If you take a spirtual viewpoint, you might consider the karmic reasons for the affair and possibily accept it as necessary to someone’s spiritual evolution/completion. Interested in hearing other viewpoints.
Is anyone faithful any more?
American writer Pamela Druckerman knows all the rules of infidelity. She spent three years studying adulterers, from Paris to Tokyo. She tells Polly Vernon why she thinks us Brits are getting it wrong.
Sunday July 8, 2007
Pamela Druckerman doesn’t look like the world’s leading authority on infidelity. She looks like the primary- school teacher all the dads fancy; or one of those second-generation yummy mummies, the kind who sets up a stall in a farmers’ market selling fashionable cupcakes. She sits in the window of a patisserie in North London; a super-pretty, soft, smiley blonde, with a latte and a laptop. She’s involuntarily fixating on passing Bugaboos. ‘My husband said he might walk by with our daughter,’ she says. She’s American, and even though her husband is British, and they have spent the past four years living in Paris, her accent endures. ‘I can’t help checking out all the prams. It’s a reflex.’ She smiles.
I expected something a lot less wholesome from someone who’s spent the past three years immersed in the world of international adultery. Pamela Druckerman has written the definitive guide on it. Lust In Translation: The Rules Of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee is the result of a long study of the world’s philanderers. Druckerman has crunched numbers, collated evidence, and acquainted herself with the lexicon of adultery in two dozen cities in 10 different countries across the world. She has interviewed adulterers (one-off; serial; recovering; flagrant; and tortured) and cuckolds (or ‘men who wear green hats’ according to the Chinese) in Moscow, Kazakhstan, London, New York, Paris, Indonesia, South America and beyond… She discovered that the Japanese don’t count it as infidelity if they’ve paid for it, and that the best thing that can happen to them in one of their famous sex clubs is ‘oral sex without showering first’. She discovered that 40 per cent of Russians surveyed think affairs are ‘not at all wrong’ or ‘not always wrong’, and that upper-class Muscovites think affairs conducted at beach clubs do not compromise wedding vows one iota. She discovered that Indonesian women in extremely traditional Islamic marriages ‘have affairs, and the reasons they give for them are exactly the same as the reasons my girlfriends in New York City gave: my husband doesn’t listen to me, I need someone who’ll make me feel smart and pretty again; my husband doesn’t do that, but my boyfriend does …’ She discovered that on average the British cheat more than the Americans – and the French.
The book – which has yet to be published in Britain – has set the US on fire. Druckerman has been hauled over the coals on assorted American radio call-in shows on a twice-daily basis ever since. Days before we meet, she did a 20-minute live feed from Paris for Al Jazeera: ‘So I prepared all this serious research into infidelity in Muslim countries; and all they wanted to know was: how do the Japanese do it? What do those guys like?’
But how much adultery can one person take? Isn’t it getting a bit repetitive? ‘No way!’ she says, with absolute glee. ‘It is endlessly fascinating.’
Oh, but isn’t it? Increasingly, infidelity seems to be the single greatest fascination of our age. We’re all at it, aren’t we? In some way or another? Eight months ago, I interviewed a psychologist called Esther Perel, who had written a book on the absence of sex in marriages and long-term relationships. When I attempted to get anecdotal evidence from people on the subject, they routinely responded: ‘People in long-term relationships have lots of sex; just not with each other.’
Hard stats on cheating are thin on the ground, and those that exist tend to be flawed. Furthermore, individual definitions on what qualifies as cheating vary dramatically.
In the course of her world tour of extramarital sex, Druckerman stopped off in the UK, where she met Edwina Currie and interviewed her about the affair she had with John Major; she also met a high-earning, very married investment banker who is working his way through a spreadsheet of sexual goals. Still, her statistics suggest that Britons don’t cheat all that much – some 9.3 per cent of men aged 16-44 and 5.1 per cent of women admitted to sleeping with someone other than their regular partner within the last year.
According to psychotherapist Brett Kahr, however, who collaborated with polling organisation YouGov on the biggest-ever survey of British sexual habits, and published his findings in February, there’s a lot more of it about than that. ‘According to conservative estimates, 11 million Britons will have indulged in an extramarital kiss at some point … Britons do seem to become more unfaithful as time progresses … of those aged between 18 and 29, 12 per cent will have had oral sex outside a steady relationship. For those aged between 30 and 50, that figure rises to 20 per cent … and among the over-50s, 30 per cent have had vaginal sex with someone other than his or her regular partner …’
Even if we’re not committing adultery, or being cheated on by a spouse, we’re wrapped up in it somehow. We’re caught up in a friend or a family member’s affair; covering for them when they’re on illicit dates, or picking up the pieces when they’re discovered. Or we’re obsessing over the public infidelities committed by our celebrities and politicians. From the Sarkozys to the (alleged) Beckhams, Gordon Brown to the (alleged) Brangelina-Aniston love triangle … a public relationship without an infidelity seems two-dimensional to us. ‘A happily married celebrity couple – who cares, right?’ asks Pamela Druckerman. Infidelity’s got sex, glamour, excitement, romance, lies, potential heartbreak and high risk. That’s why it’s a recurring motif in films and songs. It’s one of the few bits of filmic life that we could transpose into our own, generally prosaic lives, if we dared. Best of all – adultery’s really, really bad. Oh, how we disapprove of infidelity! How guilty we are about our own, and how censorious about other people’s … No wonder we’re hooked.
Druckerman began thinking about adultery in international terms when her day job – as a financial journalist – required her to relocate to South America. Once there, she says, she found that married men routinely propositioned her. She was shocked; she also began realising ‘how very American I am about this’. She lived and worked in four very different cities (São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Jerusalem and New York), during her twenties, ‘when I was dating, right?’ and was increasingly intrigued by fluctuating attitudes towards infidelity. In her late twenties and early thirties, her friends started getting married, and ‘everyone was asking themselves that same question: can I realistically sleep with only this person for the rest of my life?’ Druckerman began researching international attitudes to infidelity in earnest.
Lust In Translation is an excellent book. It’s funny, it’s compulsive, it’s surprising, it’s the million soap operas that make up other people’s love lives. But it also raises an important issue. At the core of the book is a possibility: does fidelity matter that much? If we’re all cheating, or thinking about cheating; if other countries and cultures have completely different attitudes towards it, if some of them honestly don’t associate infidelity with guilt (‘I’d ask them if they felt guilty about their affairs, and they actually couldn’t understand the question!’), then why has it become so taboo in the UK, and are we doing ourselves a massive disservice in making it taboo?
Druckerman’s book is written from the perspective of an American – and America is famously high-minded about infidelity. A 2006 Gallup poll discovered that Americans are more comfortable with polygamy and human cloning than they are infidelity; the whole Clinton-Lewinsky furore hinged on the idea that Bill Clinton had cheated on his wife, and that this automatically meant he was capable of all manner of depravities, and thus unfit to be president. But Druckerman thinks the UK increasingly embraces the American ideal on infidelity by buying into what she identifies as ‘the American script’. The ‘script’ is our communal idea of affairs, and of how an affair and the aftermath of an affair should be played out; a blueprint, almost. It dictates our behaviour in an affair situation to a terrifying degree, even when it’s contrary to how we actually want to act.
The key points of the American script resonate so strongly, it’s almost tedious. For example – the first rule of infidelity in the US and the UK is that it becomes understandable, borderline-permissible even, if the prospective cheat says they’re unhappy in their marriage. ‘And of course,’ says Druckerman, ‘everyone has flaws in their marriages, things that aren’t quite perfect… but here and the US, you start complaining about your marriage, and that way, you’re not some lousy guy who cheats on his wife because he wants sex, you’re a puppy dog who’s looking for love.’ Which might sound so trite that it hardly merits comment – until you consider the Japanese script, in which a cheating man praises his wife to his girlfriend, to demonstrate that he’s a good husband.
‘The French, for example, are much more comfortable with the idea that their affair partner is just that – an affair partner,’ Druckerman says. ‘In America or the UK, because people are so uncomfortable having an affair, what they do is start thinking about marrying their affair partner, and then they start talking in those terms to their affair partner, even though actually things at home are OK and their affair partner is not someone they’d consider marrying if they were single. The American and the British are the worst at communicating that they want to keep it “clean”; and anyway, they’ve already complained about their marriage in order to legitimise the affair in the first place. So what do they then say to the woman who expects that she’s going to become the new wife? They can’t say: “actually, I love my current wife.”‘
For the aftermath of an affair, the American script goes into overdrive. ‘Well, there’s the one-strike-and-you’re-out rule: an affair, even a one-night stand, means a marriage is over. That’s a very American and British idea. I spoke to women who, on discovering that their husbands had cheated, immediately packed a bag and left, because that’s “what you do”. Not because that’s what they wanted to do – they just thought that was the rule. They didn’t even seem to realise there were other options. And then – all those people who discover an affair, and then say: “It’s not the cheating, it’s the lies I can’t stand!” I mean, really, like they’re reading from a script!’
The coda to the American script – and, increasingly, in the UK – is the inevitable recourse to therapy. ‘This idea that the only way to mend the relationship post-affair is through therapy, is unique to the American script,’ says Druckerman.
Druckerman talks about the ‘entrepreneurs’ who build a business on the aftermath of infidelity – the therapists and couples counsellors. She points out that there’s an entire industry with a serious financial stake in upholding the idea that cheating is desperately serious, a symptom of a deeply flawed marriage, of two people who need to be cured.
Does Druckerman think that couples therapy is an exploitative, harmful waste of money? ‘I’m not totally cynical about it. I know a lot of people who have been helped by it. But I do think at the heart of it there’s an idea that the only way to heal is with total transparency, by revealing exactly what was involved in the affair, blow job by blow job, and I’ve seen no evidence that this openness helps anyone. And I mean, this can go on and on and on – 80-year-old women who have the moral high ground on their marriage, because of a one-night stand their husband had 40 years earlier …’
Druckerman insists that Lust In Translation is not a self-help volume; rather, that she’s just making a series of observations. However, it’s hard not to read some level of criticism into her perspective on the American and British attitude towards cheating. Druckerman has lived in Paris for four years, and while she says that received wisdom on the French and affairs is wildly exaggerated, they do nevertheless ‘consider affairs to be part of the fairytale of a marriage, and not, as we do, a complete rupture in it. They haven’t mastered infidelity by any means, but I do think their approach might be healthier’. Maybe, Druckerman thinks, if we acknowledged from the beginning that infidelities can and do happen, we’d be better equipped to repair a relationship afterwards. ‘Because we often do recover in the end. We may start out the door at first, but we come back.’
Druckerman also thinks the French approach to infidelity is superior, because it encourages the adulterer to at least try to enjoy the affair a little. ‘I mean,’ she says, ‘if you’re going to do it anyway, at least enjoy the sex. Have you seen that Kate Winslet film, Little Children, where she’s having an affair and, while she’s actually having sex with this guy, he starts crying out: “What am I doing? What am I doing?”‘ Druckerman laughs. I tell her I have heard of comparable real-life incidents. ‘Oh right – people who get naked with their affair partners, but won’t have sex because they’re too guilty? I mean, talk about ruining it!’
Halfway through writing Lust In Translation, Pamela Druckerman got married. ‘I was juggling adultery stats and florists’ numbers,’ she says. The book didn’t put her off? ‘It changed the way I went into marriage. A lot of Americans I know would assume that they and their partners were going to be perfectly faithful. I still meet people who say: “We’re so solid, it’s not even an issue for us.” And that makes it all the more devastating when it happens. Part of the trauma is thinking that it never will happen, and so when it does, all your assumptions about the world are turned upside-down.
‘So while I still very much aspire toward fidelity, for me and my husband – ha! if one can [aspire] for someone else? – if one of us cheated, it would be less of a shock. Although probably not less of a devastation. And I hope that having lived in France for four years, my assumptions would be more French. I wouldn’t assume that the marriage was automatically over, or that I had to pay someone to usher us through the pain.’
Ultimately, Druckerman does think that infidelity is a big deal. She says that, wherever she went, whatever the local script on infidelity dictated, the one recurring motif was heartbreak, if the infidelity was uncovered. ‘It always hurts,’ she says. ‘People might expect it, they might not be surprised, they might not leave the relationship because, hey, the next guy’s gonna do it too, right? … but they will still be hurt.’
She is, however, unconvinced that it’s as big a deal as received wisdom in the US and UK would have us believe. Ultimately, Druckerman invokes Hillary Clinton, who reveals in her new autobiography that, although she considered leaving her husband on hearing about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, she realised that ‘worse things happen in a marriage’. Druckerman thinks this attitude might permeate the American script on infidelity, in the fullness of time. ‘I hope it will,’ she says. For her part, she’s going to keep researching.
She doesn’t have a choice. Druckerman says she can’t go to a dinner party without someone tracking her down. ‘They’ll say: “you remember what happened when I saw you last time?” … and I’ll be thinking, now, are you the one who’s considering running off with her gynaecologist, or was that someone else …? Because of course, for lots of us, affairs are the biggest, most exciting thing that ever happens to us …’ And that is why we’ll keep having them.July 8, 2007 at 8:45 am #22833
That you might consider it necessary to your own evolution as well – the pain of someone cheating on you I mean.
The way I look at these things from the theoretical point of view is that ideally we would all be having sex with everything all of the time. So affairs are not surprising. But I think there are better ways of conducting them as this woman is saying… the illicitness of affairs tends to promote the idea that the best sex is illicit, and indeed the guys who are saying ‘oh god what am I doing?’ just as they are fucking their chosen temporary squeeze are probably actually getting off on the self-condemnation. Alot of people like to do that, it’s one of the easier taboos to break, and the thrill comes from not having been ‘allowed to’.
The best way of handling it would be for all people to be friends, and the ‘affairee’ to accept they are just passing through, talk about it upfront. If you can do that of course its mystique goes away.
NNJuly 8, 2007 at 9:09 am #22835
… that if you can’t get what you want with two, the next number to try is five! NNJuly 8, 2007 at 12:26 pm #22837
what an important topic..
i have come to realize recently just how much people take for granted when it comes to helping each other out.. sometimes people need a partner that is committed because they may not have anyone else..
then there are children and families..
i recall as a kid the overwhelming desire for mom and dad to just love each other..when threat of separation was there..
I watched a discovery channel documentary the other night and they were saying that in ancient china it was really the devotion that constituted the marriage.. so that if an outside sexual relationship did not compromise that devotion then it was ok..
Thats about where I am.. once upon a time I would have said “everybody screweig everbody all the time”… but what then?
what about ritual? what about promising to be there for someone to count on and NOT be a threat of hurt?
and of course, isn’t a foundation of human human connection trust and honesty of communication?
So what will relationshps look like in a 1000 years?
I think the real heart to heart issue is trust and helping each other out, having someone to be there..
BUT, what about boredom and entrapment?
the problem when it comes to outside sex or orgies is emotional anxiety from the question of whether you are about to lose this person you care about, will miss, and count on being there..
These emotions that happen when we lose someone show how much we care about them..
so, really, i think it comes down to being there for someone
There are a million things that happen where a moment to moment decision can be made that produces shallow results and simultaneously destroys somethign in the long term..
how many times has a wonderful life been destroyed totally forever out of a moments shallow decision
same thing for relationsships..
a brief argument that could have been resolved turning into a destroyed foundation
this is why you commit and work through things, especially when it comes to love, bonding and family/children and helping each other out.. who said life is easy?
if an orgy or wifeswap/husband swap can be fit in without violating the trust and bond, then cool
same thing if you just say hey, we are going to screw who we want when we want.. but still stick together through thick and thin..
i just don’t think may people’s emotions or the bond itself are strong enough to deal with it…July 8, 2007 at 1:15 pm #22839
A man is only as faithful as his options! One of my favorite lines from a comedian Chris Rock.
We are all fishing for minos on the back of a whale. This is also a key I feel to understanding it.
I think a fine balance of acceptance of peoples process with the grounded understanding of not taking abuse can be achieved. It is intersting to strip away the cultural filters to get to the truth of the relation ship of the shen through your emotions what truth is revealed vs a programed responce to it. From what I feel from my shen at this piont. Is the under lining structure is about lack of integrity(a nife that cuts through cultural limmits) this also leads to a lack of honesty aka self expression or a feeling of having to hide it. This also relates to how conscious or unconscious we wish to make this life.
I will have to try this line and see if it works “Baby I was just following the plan that my soul and your soul and her soul made, I am just following the script.” We will see if that works. 🙂 Being clever was never my strong suite.July 9, 2007 at 5:22 am #22841
Liberating oneself from thoughts and ideas that imprison the soul is one step closer to the Tao…
In this context I want to feel absolutely free who I engage with, even sexually. Nevertheless I can have an unique relationship with my partner.
We are on the very edge of such process, where I clearly communicate the above to him, and where he is clear he wants a divorce on such terms, yet the doubt is there, the bond we have, the unique and supporting force we still have is there as well.
He is noticing that the more I liberate myself from the ‘rules’ the stronger I become, the more sexual energy is unleashed, the more power is generated.
I am crystal clear why the rules are there! I experience the difference!
That is why I will not give in on this one, he can go with me or cut the wires, I know where I am going…July 10, 2007 at 1:22 am #22843
Does Hedonism really grant freedom from the so called human rule of marriage? Does it really mean we are free if you can shag anyone or anything you want too? (Is there a chance that marriage creates its own unique freedom?)If screwing around truly brings harmony why does infidellity destroy so many lives? Are we not exchanging one so called “prison” for another?July 10, 2007 at 7:33 am #22845
… what looks like freedom really is not. That much is definitely true. I do think there are cultural vs. natural factors at work as well though.
I think the problem with this discussion is the article it’s based on which takes a groupmind look at the inhibitions or otherwise of cultures… this is really nothing to do with it actually, I’m sure a taoist can override cultural factors easily enough. It’s all a question of how deep it is possible to go with the other person, that’s what I think.
Deep in the sense of being vulnerable, because the sense of ‘owning’ the other person can be stifling, an ego thing that makes freedom with one another possible. Deep also in the sense of honesty. Personally I don’t think anyone who is consistently unfaithful can possibly be happy, it really would feel like cowardliness to me… but I refuse to judge it.
I also think the ‘any more’ in Michael’s subject line is redundant because this is perennial, absolutely. I would put the divorce figures down to a) a realization that more maturity is required for real marriage than the culture – with its sex sells attitude – is able to foster (current high energy environment is bringing this out), and b) a total inability to achieve that maturity! And I think most infidelity is down to the same thing really, a desperate lunge after a fantasy, an ego thing.
Still, without the ‘sex sells’, maybe Mantak and Michael would not really have had the success they’ve had! 🙂
Very different would be openness as to feelings on these subjects and determination to experiment, as Wendy is doing. The idea that a successfully hidden affair ‘never really happened’ as far as the marriage is concerned is a bit of a joke when you consider the energetics of the situation!
But the culture is bullshit on this subject, just constantly repeating the same lies about love and marriage, and moralizing hugely on the topic which really doesn’t help anybody.
JJuly 11, 2007 at 10:51 am #22847
This is why I posted the qoute from Chris Rock. Wellcome to the forum.
p.s. I will try not to chase you around the forum. 🙂July 11, 2007 at 11:29 am #22849
If a person can not be honest with their spouse or partner, what level of human and spritual development are they at? For me its not about faithful or not, its about honesty or not.
baguaJuly 11, 2007 at 11:33 am #22851
Remember we are talking about muggles here. Essentially people sleepwalk into marriages. It is probably rather hard to say to someone after being with them a bunch of years, hey, I just realized this whole time I was sleepwalking. To ask ‘What level are they at?’ is not really applicable for people who haven’t even got to the concept of trying to improve themselves. JasonJuly 11, 2007 at 11:57 am #22853
The point is why look at these “sleepwalkers” as some kind of model, see them for what they are. Why not look at faithful people or atleast honest people who can communicate with their partners, lets do a study on them.
We wouldn’t study obese people to see the realities of health and living in the modern world, we would look at people with a healthy lifestyle.
regardsJuly 11, 2007 at 1:01 pm #22855
Like my partner says, there is mental understanding and there is emotional pain, two different things. In order to avoid the emotional pain he wants a divorce. Unless he can change his view on things, but nor he nor I can force that to happen.
We do spend a lot of time talking and listening.
I learned to respect the path of the other without trying to force or change that person for my own benefit or purpose, yet I learned not to give in to what the other wants, because that brings you into the shadow, lying to yourself and to the other person, trying to avoid the pain that you know you cause.
I respect his wish to divorce, because I see no other option to keep him from pain at this moment yet we find ourselves in a still point, re-balancing, adjusting.
Mind there is no other person on the stage at this point, this is a could-be situation derived from things that did happen in the past, which are very much at the surface in order to heal, to change or to break what is. The year 9 is cleaning out what is no longer useful or need to be changed, in order to start fresh, renewed, reborn in the year 1-0
We are in a deep change, personally and as a couple, we will not be the same after this…July 11, 2007 at 2:33 pm #22857July 11, 2007 at 10:10 pm #22859
Honesty is to share with your partner what you will do, which allows the other person the choice to leave, stay or whatever. I dont think its necessary to share every fantasy that will not be lived out, unless your partner wants to hear it.
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