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Watch out! If you’ve been using Ashley Madison, the infamous dating site for having an extramarital affair, you are officially busted.
When I first heard about this site, and that it catered specifically to married humans, I was shocked. Yes, the tagline is, “Life is short. Have an affair.” It has over 39 million users in over 46 countries. Gulp. And most of its NYC ‘cheaters’ live in Park slope….
I live in park slope, I work in Park Slope, work out there, walk around there, and am constantly admiring the families pushing their children about to brunch and after school activities, thinking how content their picture perfect family life seems. Apparently I am wrong. While mummy is off to work and the kiddies are in school, daddy is online looking for an affair.
Perhaps it’s not just the search for an affair that’s so scandalous. Perhaps it’s our whole understanding of romantic relationships that is flawed. Adultery has existed as long as marriage has existed. These flaws have had plenty of time to deepen.
As the institution of marriage in the western world has evolved from primarily providing financial stability to providing emotional stability, we are caught straddling the gap between morality and individuality. Traditional norms from religious beliefs uphold monogamy as the end all be all, while capitalistic, secular, values emphasize the significance of personal happiness. And here we are! Caught in the perilous middle, struggling to identify the source of our moral decisions.
Are we naturally polygamous and biologically predisposed to cheat? Frankly, I’m a little tired of this conversation, because it’s too frequently used as a justification for a wandering mind. If you want to fantasize about other people you might as well be honest about it, because what is empowering is that we are born to choose. (At least, those of us living in societies that support women in all ways necessary to empower choice.)
If you choose monogamy, then choose it, and be conscious of what you are choosing and why. But if that’s not right for you, you have to own that too. So many of us fall into relationships because that’s what’s expected of us. Custom can easily convince us to commit to a situation that doesn’t really suit our needs. But that’s all the more reason to delve into the complexity of these conversations with a partner. A secretive structure is at the core of an affair, so maybe chipping away at our desire to cheat means chipping away at secrecy.
Thing is, as Esther Perrel says in her TED Talk about why we cheat, affairs are way less about sex and way more about desire. The very structure of an affair, that you can never actually have your lover, is a desire machine. And desire is a fascinating thing.
Desire for an affair is oftentimes not about seeking something in another person, but seeking something within oneself. It’s a way to investigate the dark secret shadows of our selves, to yearn, and discover, and imagine. But if we were able to put all that energy into our current relationship, maybe the affair wouldn’t need to exist in the first place.
Repressing desire only makes it burn brighter, so we need to find a better response than exposing and embarrassing the cheaters of the world. We need to find ways to engage in nuanced discussions about desire and commitment, and how they can work together. If we can cultivate honesty and openness in our inner lives and partnerships, if we can eliminate the judgment that leads to repression, perhaps we can create the space to have an affair with the very person we’re already committed to.