I was watching a TEDx Talk on the skill of self-confidence, until, weirdly enough, I came across another talk on infidelity. The two subjects were inevitably related, I presumed, as infidelity constituted one of the most traumatic experiences to one’s self-worth imaginable. I have since been contemplating writing on the subject, a little too sensitive of a matter, to say the least. But here goes nothing.
Esther Perel, a Belgian psychotherapist, took 20 minutes to break down this poorly understood act we call infidelity, or adultery. Her take on the matter is quite interesting, as it not only takes the side of the deceived party of an affair, but tries to understand the deceiver, a person we usually like to call a cheater. Throughout many conversations I’ve had the privilege of having with many people here and there, many have questioned man’s ability to be monogamous altogether (when I say man, I mean men and women). “We were never built to have one sexual partner”, they say.
I would like to openly disagree. Mammals were built to reproduce, but it does not appear that we were all cut from the same cloth. The “loyal superstars” are beavers, wolves and some bats. Unfortunately however, people, as intelligent as they claim to be, do not fit this category as well. But as humans, children require many years of care, before they are ready to take the world on their own. It takes around 12 months for a baby to say his/her first word, and another three months to start walking. A proper family is crucial for this developmental process, which continues on for a couple of years after that first word. Not to deviate from our subject too much, what I am suggesting is that, the need for reproduction suggests we should have one attentive partner, or at least, one partner at a time. Also, love, and true love at that, demands full and exclusive attention. And Rightfully so.
So why do people cheat? Better yet, why do people in happy relationships, go astray?
Perel says that adultery has existed since the concept of marriage was invented. The experience in our day and age however is quite different. The digital era makes discovering an affair quite easy. A deceived partner might find his/her significant other’s parallel life mapped out in a WhatsApp conversation. With good stalking skills, you can even find pictures on Instagram or Facebook. What used to be a suspicious perfume smell or a lipstick stain is now a fully documented story, horrifically unfolding, cutting at one’s heart like knives. It is, as Perel states, pain like nothing else, “death by a thousand cuts”.
And I go back to self-confidence, cheating does not by any means dictate one’s value. “Where did I go wrong?” Is not the correct question to be asked here. “Am I not enough?” Isn’t the one either. We live in a time when everyone believes they are special, so special in fact that they believe they can be a little bit happier. A disturbing case of FOMO, if I may. Perel beautifully states that affaires are an act of betrayal yes, but they are also an expression of loss. When we look for something in others, we are usually looking to recapture something we have lost within ourselves. Ironically, the deceived end of an affair questions his/her self-worth, when in fact, it is usually the deceivers who turn away from who they are, looking for another sense of self in someone else. It is far less about you, and more so about them.
Now Perel, a beautiful woman in her 60s I assume, looks at the audience and says, “Now I know what you’re thinking. She has a French accent, she must be pro-affair”. The crowd’s laughter fades, and then she says, “You’re wrong. I am neither French, nor pro-affair.” Cheating, is as highly recommended as cancer, she says. But cheating, like cancer, can be recovered from.
The truth of the matter is that, people can betray their partners in many different ways, beyond sex and desire, which can be in many ways, fleeting. Mistreating our partners is an act of betrayal. Abandonment, is an act of betrayal. Neglect and dishonesty, acts of betrayal. So what I would say here, and I am no expert on the subject, is that if we were to be deserving of love, we must guard our loved ones like our lives depended on it. We must also walk away, when we feel we can no longer deliver on our initial promise to stay true to them, and only them. And we certainly mustn’t allow ourselves to fail them with the selfish and cancerous choice of leading a double life.
For in those instances, we have not only risked ruining them, we have also failed ourselves.