Despite employing austerity measures in my home for the next month till taking the bar exam (canceling cable, putting newspaper delivery on hold, teetotaling), I could not avoid reading the New York Times Magazine article in Sunday’s paper about marriage and infidelity that has gripped the cultural zeitgeist ever since.
Ugh. It all makes me so exasperatedly hopeless. The article by Mark Oppenheimer called Marriage With Infidelities is another very well reasoned argument against being completely faithful in marriage. I strongly recommend you read it, but the gist is essentially a profile of Dan Savage, the popular sex columnist’s belief that marriage in today’s day and age should strive to be mostly monogomous. But a couple should talk openly and honestly about sexual desires and allow one another a few indiscretions from time to time so that they can remain in a stable committed relationship over time. He makes a compelling case.
I’m starting to buy that the rational reasonable thing to do is talk openly with your spouse about sexual desire and understand that especially for men sometimes sex is just sex and allowing a few flings over the years doesn’t detract from a healthy marriage. It makes sense. But the problem is, I suspect like many women, when reading this I can completely understand why it’s the logical, perhaps even smart conclusion and yet I can’t help hoping that I end up in the minority of marriages that are truly faithful and monogomous. In other words, this is all fine with me as long as I’m the exception.
So what I’m obsessing over is if intellectually I recognize that allowing a few meaningless sexual indiscretions is a smart choice, why does the thought of it make my stomach tie up in knots? Why emotionally is this so hard for me to swallow? I genuinely believe that men can have meaningless sex. (Of course some women can too, but I know I’m not one of them.) But nonetheless, I do believe a man can have sex with a woman and not cheat with his heart – as in, he still only loves and cherishes his spouse. But the thought of allowing that in my own life and marriage one day, makes my own heart feel weighted down.
Even if I tell myself, that sexual indiscretions are no different than viewing pornography, I can’t make it the same to my heart. The truth is sexual desire is so complicated. I think it’s completely unreasonable to expect that a husband never look at porn because I think it’s unreasonable to expect that over a lifetime a man would only never desire anyone but his spouse. So I would never consider pornography a betrayal because the vows of marriage are not to be pure in thought, but rather to be pure in action. It’s the choice to act on the desire that tears me up inside.
But still, why is that? I understand and expect that a husband over a lifetime will desire other women. I recognize that a man is capable of having meaningless sex that would not effect his feelings or commitment to a relationship. And yet, the thought of it happening to me makes me sick. Why am I so unevolved?
Why is it that I want fidelity so badly? Why do I want him to be all mine? To have his body belong to me and mine to him. I don’t understand it well but I know I want the act of making love to be a little piece of the world’s experience that only belongs to him and me. Something we share that no one else in the world can claim. A territory of ownership that nothing in the universe can cast asunder. Some of it is also selfishness. Part of why I hold marriage in such high estimation is to me it’s the promise of knowing you will never be alone again. You will always have someone with you. And part of ensuring that is sex. Knowing that your husband will always turn to you for sex ensures that he will always come back to you I suppose. Part of it, is jealousy. The thought of his hand on her body when I know it’s supposed to be on mine makes me seethe. I want his hand to always rove on my body and no one else’s. I want to know that I always matter to him. I want to know that when he’s away on business and at a bar and a little drunk and flirting with a hot younger girl that instead of putting me out of his mind and giving in to what feels good and natural, that he does the hard thing and remembers me and the promises he made and chooses me over the temporary pleasure the sexy girl in front of him might bring.
It’s a part of him he only shares with me. No one else. I get him. Me. Period. The End. The side of him that you see only when you lay your head next to his on the pillow belongs to me. Even if it is only sex and nothing more that is still something. Sex is a revelation of who are at your most basic primal level. You’re naked literally and emotionally and your primary purpose at that moment is to feel something that’s an expression of your most animalistic desires. So when you’re faithful, you’ve decided to share that most basic fundamental revelation about whom you are to only one person. Only your wife gets to know you like that. And that still feels special.
Are any of these feelings justification enough to remain unevolved and hope against reason that your partner is faithful to perpetuate the dying institution of marriage? I don’t know. But I know I can’t make those feelings go away. And as long as I do, the only way for me not to be miserable is to believe that someone will be faithful to me forever. I’m not naive enough to think that love always does conquer all. But I have to believe in this case, that love can conquer indiscretions.