Loose Change

I was talking with a friend of mine last night who is a recent bride. She and I aren’t close so I was surprised when she began to confide in me: her father is having an affair and has been for nine months. Her parents had kept this information from her so as not to spoil the wedding, but revealed later that her mother had known three months into the affair and so had been living the last six months knowing her husband was actively unfaithful. This young newlywed also mentioned that her new husband’s parents were splitting up. I could tell she was upset. I had no idea what to tell her. My parents and grandparents on both sides have been together for 32 and 54 years (my grandparents married on the same day of the same year, seven states apart) and while I am aware of infidelity on both my mother and father’s part, it has resulted not in separation but in a tighter bond and stronger resolve. What my friend is seeing is a dissolution of both her model marriage and that of her husband. I can tell it has shaken her faith in her own marriage, though they have both resolved not to let their marriage suffer or weaken, despite watching their parents’ marriages dissolve before their eyes.

I tell this whole story because after telling me this she voiced an interesting opinion concerning fidelity: having sex with someone not your wife is one thing, cheating is another. Cheating involves lying or at least not discussing it beforehand. Having sex with someone not your spouse, if done safely and with at least the foreknowledge if not the explicit consent of your spouse, is not the same. I have felt this way for some time and hearing it from the female half of what I see as a very traditional couple (catholic wedding and all) was a welcome surprise. I find it fascinating that this opinion is becoming something I’m seeing more and more in traditional, vanilla married couples. I know swinging has been a thing since, what, the forties? Probably earlier, but it was an offshoot; something people thought of as sexual deviancy and offensive. Open relationships were part of the kink community and still are to a great degree. I imagine that the opinion I now share with my freshly married friend is common between couples who enjoy group activities or polyamorous/open interactions. What I see when I discover an opinion about fidelity that seems more liberal than the person who holds it is a key to the path of normalization and legalization. I like to think that at least the idea of sexual therapy and sexual surrogacy as a way to assist an ailing couple is on its way into the mainstream and that our more traditional values concerning marriage, sex, and how to heal a suffering sexual relationship are changing. Young men and women watching their parents’ traditional monogamous marriages falling apart and wishing to prevent that in their own might turn to more nontraditional methods to keep the sparks going.

That’s not to say I advocate running off and finding a fresh face every time you get bored or have a fight, nor am I saying that most or all couples should go outside their relationships for satisfaction. Infidelity, primarily the part of it that involves deception, has always seemed to me a symptom of something bigger in a relationship. Any couple that can’t discuss honestly their concerns is going to have a difficult time staying together. That being said, perhaps ‘The Session’ in which Helen Hunt plays a sexual surrogate for a paraplegic will become the next ‘Patch Adams’, changing the way people think about alternative approaches to illness or sexual dissatisfaction.

I wonder sometimes if some generations didn’t cripple themselves by marrying for love. Much as the doomed Romeo and Juliet, marrying for purely emotional reasons often leads to poor matches, lies, miscommunications, and ultimate tragedy. Some couples survive but many either do not or limp along, becoming less and less hospitable all the time. I find that the marriages I see as successful are those who maintain fondness and trust, though not necessarily passion and lust. I see two people working toward a goal who find each other’s company pleasant and who can trust each other to grow together. Sex outside of that relationship doesn’t seem as though it would diminish that kind of relationship. No amount of mind blowing sex can make up for years of quiet devotion and friendship though I’m sure it might seem so at the time. Of course I can’t say any of this from personal experience. I’ve never been in a relationship like that: ten years old, pleasant, but missing a spark. I do know people who are in marriages like that. People who wouldn’t dream of leaving their spouse but who seek sexual fulfillment elsewhere. To me that seems incredibly reasonable. Unfortunately the spouses, I imagine, feel differently. I hope that the conversation I had the other day with this fresh bride, concerned with the longevity not of the sex but of the marriage, is a sign of change.