Could Bettina Arndt see the irony in the title of her SMH article today? Her article is here
She was responding to a new book by Catherine Hakim which proposes a ‘radical rethink of fidelity to take advantage of internet dating sites for married people. These new sites offer opportunity for discreet liaisons that Hakim feels can enhance a marriage. Saying; Here the impact of an affair can potentially be almost entirely positive.’
Now, I have not done any research into this specific area and am unqualified to make any judgements about social trends or psychological responses to marital affairs. Instead I simply want to make one observations on the article at hand.
According to Hakim and Arndt the main reason for extra-marital affairs in men is a lack of sex in the relationship. For woman, it is a husband who is disconnected – either always at work or unwilling to spend the time needed to become a better lover.
Ok, so faced with these two potential problems what do you think the ‘adult’ response would be? Yes, you guessed it – find someone else to have sex with and fulfil your own physical desires with them. This is of course the most mature way forward and “it’s insane to throw away a marriage for something as ephemeral as sexual dalliance” (Hakim).
I teach in High School. I see Year 7 children who can’t get what they want, unable to communicate what is bothering them, throwing a hissy fit. These students are selfish, without empathy and as of yet unable to communicate clearly what they are feeling and why they are frustrated. But that’s ok Because they are only 12 years old! Over the next 6 years we help them to see that selflessness is powerfully liberating. We help them understand the other person’s position and we guide them as they learn to communicate adult concepts and feelings through words.
May I suggest what the ‘adult’ response to the initial problem may actually be?
Loving, self-sacrificial compromise.
The adult response is the husband realising that his wife is not merely ‘sex-on-tap’ and that indeed no one will be such a thing for him. It involves (on the other end) him realising he cannot hide behind his work and avoid meaningful relationship with his wife. It is a willingness in him to give up some of his ‘sexual rights’ for the good of his wife and to do the whole thing through clear and regular communication.
The adult response is the wife realising that her husband is a sexual man who will flourish if he is allowed to express that with her. It is a willingness in her to give up some of her ‘sexual rights’ for the good of her husband and to do the whole thing through clear and regular communication.
This is not easy. Growing up never is.
It requires a relationship to deepen, to move forward, to struggle through uncertainty. It requires two selfish people (which we all are) fight the fight of selflessness as they consider the needs of the one lying next to them in the bed. Yet over time it also becomes liberating.
The truth is, Hakim’s ‘adultery’ solution and Arndt’s support of it is certainly one way forward. But it is a childish and overtly selfish way forward. There is nothing ‘adult’ about it.
Perhaps I should invite them to join my Year 7 class and they can both spend the next 6 years learning what it means to grow up.