Yes, you get an Alain de Botton twofer. Today we untangle “The stupidity and folly of adultery.”
Come on, guys. Don’t you want to know what the Great Intellectual of Our Age thinks about marriage and fidelity?
Deciphering the word salad, I believe what de Botton is trying to say (assuming he wrote this essay, because it’s just on his blog, without attribution…) is that marriage sucks. The lie isn’t adultery. No, the lie is marriage. No one can possibly be happy giving up the prerogative to fuck multiple people or, excuse me, “not miss out on some of life’s greatest and most significant pleasures.”
Hells bells. That we can live inside our “cosy cage” of marriage at all is a “miracle”!
Gosh, don’t invite this guy to your next wedding. Can you imagine the toast? “May you suffocate nobly in your cage!” As he ambles over drunkenly to grope the bridesmaids, not missing out on life’s significant pleasures.
If believing in the ideals of marriage is often naive, so too is believing that adultery can be an effective antidote to its many disappointments.
What is ultimately ‘wrong’ with adultery is its sheer dangerous optimism. While it may look at first sight like a cynical activity to engage in, adultery in fact betrays an absurdly hopeful conviction that one can somehow magically rearrange the difficulties and shortcomings of marriage through a lie. This is to misunderstand the facts of life. It is impossible to sleep with someone outside of marriage and not violently destroy the things one still cares about inside it – and yet, in case we get carried away with the charms of fidelity, it is equally impossible to remain utterly faithful in a marriage and yet not miss out on some of life’s greatest and most significant pleasures that lie outside the couple.
Yes, the problem with adultery isn’t the lying and ambient abuse, it’s not the STDs, or humiliating someone you purport to love (and stealing their assets) — no the problem is OPTIMISM. Cheaters are just too damn hopeful.
In short, as the adulterer forgets (to the huge cost of those they care about and who believe in them), there is no solution.
There is no answer to the tensions of marriage, if what one means by an ‘answer’ is a settlement in which no party suffers a loss, and in which every positive element can coexist with every other, without either causing or sustaining grievous damage.The three things people usually want in this sphere – love, sex and family – each affects and harms the others in devilish ways. Loving a person may inhibit the ability to have sex with him or her. Yet having a secret tryst can fatally endanger a relationship with a spouse who is loved but no longer excites. However, having children can imperil both love and sex, and yet neglecting the kids in order to focus on marriage or sexual thrills may threaten the health and mental stability of the next generation. The choice isn’t between happiness and grief; all that is on offer are different varieties of suffering.
How does loving someone “inhibit the ability to have sex with him or her”? WTF? Isn’t that a little window into de Button’s fuckupedness right there. Intimacy issues, anyone?
Once again, chumps, you failed to enchant. You’re the spouse who is “loved but no longer excites.”
He really paints a dreadful picture of marriage, doesn’t he? Love your children and you IMPERIL love and sex with your narcissist. I would write “spouse”, but seriously, the only fuckwits who think loving your children imperils the love you feel for your spouse are narcissists. NO KIBBLES FOR THE BABY!!!
The only alternative? “Neglect” the children and focus on the marriage. Yes, if you want to please your Crazy, just check the kiddos into an orphanage and work on your enchantment skills. Oops. Not good enough. He “loves you.” That’s a real boner killer.
Is it inconceivable for this person to imagine a world in which his needs and desires are not central? Could de Botton just grow the fuck up, already?
Periodically, frustration breeds an impulse to seek a utopian solution. Perhaps an open marriage would work. Or a policy of secrets. Or a renegotiation of the contract on a yearly basis. Or more child care. All such strategies are fated to fail, however, for the simple reason that loss is written into the rules of the situation. If we sleep around, we will put at risk our spouse’s love and the psychological health of our children. If we don’t sleep around, we will go stale and miss out on the excitement of new relationships. If we keep an affair secret, it will corrode us inside and stunt our capacity to receive another’s love. If we confess to infidelity, our partner will panic and never get over our sexual adventures (even if they meant nothing to us). If we focus all of our energies on our children, they will eventually abandon us to pursue their own lives, leaving us wretched and lonely. But if we ignore our children in favour of our own romantic pursuits as a couple, we will scar them and earn their unending resentment. Marriage is like a bed sheet that can never be straightened: when we seek to perfect or ameliorate one side of it, we will succeed only in further wrinkling and disturbing the others.
Woe! Marriage is like a bed sheet that can never be straightened! Doom! Doom!
Did you know the world will end if you can’t bounce quarters off your taut bedsheets?
“Loss is written into the rules”? Seriously, dude? I think you mean a loss of kibbles. Open relationships are not Utopian. They just mean that both people get to fuck around equally. Which means a kibble loss to you. Much better (ah Utopia!) if the spouse is duped into loving you exclusively, and shelves the kids (little kibble thieves), and devotes all their kibble production to YOU. Even if they are inferior kibbles of love, and not the sparkly kibbles of a new piece of ass. Why should you have to SHARE THE KIBBLES? WHY? WHY? Why is the bed sheet forever wrinkled? How did someone with a first rate education from Harrow and Cambridge ever graduate and write this sort of dreck? Would that wrinkled sheet metaphor get past a Freshman English composition class?
The only cure for infidelity is pessimism. We need new sadder vows to exchange with partners in order to stand a sincere chance of mutual fidelity over a lifetime. Certainly something far more cautionary and downbeat than the usual platitudes would be in order – for example: ‘I promise to be disappointed by you and you alone. I promise to make you the sole repository of my regrets, rather than to distribute them widely through multiple affairs and a life of sexual Don Juanism. I have surveyed the different options for unhappiness, and it is you I have chosen to commit myself to.’ These are the sorts of generously pessimistic and kindly unromantic promises that couples should make to each other at the altar.
The sole repository of my regrets? Yeah. No surprise you’re alone. What girl wouldn’t be charmed by “I promise to be disappointed by you and you alone”? De Botton — you’re failing to enchant. Step up your game, dude.
Thereafter, an affair would be a betrayal only of a reciprocal pledge to be disappointed in a particular way, not of an unrealistic hope. Spouses who had been cheated upon would no longer furiously complain that they had expected their partner to be happy with them per se. Instead they could more poignantly and justly cry, ‘I was relying on you to be loyal to the specific variety of disappointment which I represent.’
Too many people start off in relationships by putting the moral emphasis in the wrong place, smugly mocking the urge to stray as if it were something disgusting and unthinkable. But in truth, it is the ability to stay that is both wondrous and worthy of honour; it is not the norm. Fidelity is a heroic achievement. That a couple should be willing to watch their lives go by from within the cosy cage of marriage, without acting on extra-mural sexual impulses, is a miracle of civilisation and kindness for which daily gratitude is in order.
“Smugly mocking the urge to stray”? Raising my hand. You’re on to me de Botton. Fidelity is a heroic achievement? Well it probably would be for you. But for us other folks, the ones with empathy synapses — it’s not so difficult. To an emotional fuckwit like you? Yeah, I’m sure it’s advanced calculus. Maybe you better stick to the remedial course, du Botton. Kissing and heavy petting and don’t wade into the deeper waters of sex, love, and commitment.
“Daily gratitude is in order”? Now who’s being smug?
Spouses who remain faithful to each other should recognise the scale of the sacrifice they are making. There is nothing biologically ‘normal’ or cost-free about sexual renunciation. Fidelity deserves to be celebrated as a high point of the ethical imagination – ideally with some medals and the sounding of a public gong – rather than discounted as an unremarkable norm whose undermining by an affair should quickly provoke utter rage. A loyal marriage ought at all times to retain within it an awareness of the immense forbearance and pessimistic, stoic generosity which the two parties are showing one another in managing not to sleep around (or, for that matter, in refraining from killing each other). That is something to feel truly hopeful about.
There’s nothing biologically normal about sexual renunciation, by which I believe you mean monogamy? Well, let’s do the biologically normal thing and punch you in the face. Apparently you evolved to do that very thing — take punches to the face. I think you should set a course and do all the biologically normal things — poop in the open whenever you feel like it, quit wearing clothes, stop farming. You didn’t EVOLVE to do that. Did Darwin discover cufflinks?
Why is it the only thing you people seem to want to call on evolution for is the freedom to fuck around? Move your bowels in public? Not so much.
Fidelity deserves to be “celebrated as a high point of the ethical imagination”? What the fuck kind of word salad is THAT? You think fidelity is IMAGINARY? You’re saying people who manage monogamy are unicorns? Oh no, they do so with “immense forbearance and pessimistic, stoic generosity.” Kind of takes the fun out of the “celebration”, don’t you think? Describing us as a bunch of pinched, withholding, stoics who managed not to “kill each other.”
Gosh, you know a guy who gets the kind of smorgasbord of pussy that you advocate should be a lot more cheerful. I’m thinking someone’s unfounded rage at your infidelities (that didn’t mean anything! But are the very essence of life itself!) has got you blue. Sticky, small children stealing your kibbles. Wife failing to enchant. People thinking you’re douchey because you cheat. The whole system is fucked.
I know — why don’t you write a philosophical essay on an “emotional intelligence” blog and tell us all how we’re Doing It All Wrong? Throw in some images of classical art — that’ll make people think you’re cultured! Just like the Alhambra tiles and the Bach Mass references, people will know you went to good school’s on Daddy’s money and they’ll recognize your superiority. Because you’re so privileged and do TED talks and write books, you can rail at us and tell us why we’re all being so unfair with this monogamy shit.
I think your problem is like a wrinkled bed sheet that won’t straighten. Perhaps you could apply a hot iron to yourself.