What affairs are really about? Do they happen only in unhappy relationships? In that case, why are most of us have guilty of some kind of cheating? Why do committed partners cheat even in seemingly happy relationships? Why do they feel like straying away even when they are loved and cared for?
In this article, we will take a closer look at what makes happy people cheat, what affairs are really about and also shed light on the common myths about affairs and infidelity that we all need to understand and accept.
“Tis my opinion every man cheats in his own way, and he is only honest who is not discovered.” – Susannah Centlivre
How many of you have been personally affected by infidelity?*
I was in the audience when Esther Perel asked this and 80% raised their hands.
What about you? Would your hand have gone up?
Maybe you had a parent who had an affair. Maybe that affair broke up your parents’ marriage. Maybe it was your best friend or your sister who strayed. Maybe it was your spouse. Maybe it was you.
In her recent TED talk, Rethinking Infidelity … a talk for anyone who has ever loved, Esther Perel examines why people cheat, why infidelity is so devastating and how, at the heart of most affairs you’ll find issues of longing and loss — longing for novelty, sexual intensity, freedom, and a wish to recapture vitality in the face of tragedy or loss.
“Every man wants a woman to appeal to his better side, his nobler instincts and his higher nature — and another woman to help him forget them.” – Helen Rowland
Esther tells us that she’s asked all the time: “What percentage of people cheat?” Her answer: because there is no universally agreed-upon definition of what constitutes infidelity — Sexting? Watching porn? Staying secretly active on dating sites? Kissing? Thinking about kissing? —there’s no way to measure. “Estimates vary,” she says, “from 26% to 75%.”
“What if even a good marriage cannot inoculate us against wanderlust?What if passion has a finite shelf life? What if there are things that even a good relationship cannot give us?”
She’s also asked, “For or against?” — as in, do you think affairs are a good or bad thing? And here’s where what she’s saying gets interesting. Though her somewhat mischievous reply to the pro or con question is “yes,” her more serious message is that we need to look at infidelity in a more nuanced way. We need to move the conversation beyond good and bad; beyond victim and perpetrator.
And in order to do that, we need to understand what affairs are really about.
4 Myths About Infidelity and Affairs that we need to understand and accept
Myth #1- Affairs are about unhappy marriages (or unhealthy people.)
It’s a common assumption: if someone has an affair, there’s either something wrong in their relationship or there’s something wrong with them. But as Esther points out, “millions of people can’t all be pathological.” Nor are they all fleeing miserable marriages.
The one thing people all over the world have told her about their affair — it makes them feel “alive.“
“When a man must force himself to be faithful in his love, this is hardly better than unfaithfulness.” – Francois La Rochefoucauld
Conventional wisdom says that if everything is going well at home — good sex, good times —there’s no need to look elsewhere. But the questions Esther raises in her talk challenge us to rethink.
“What if even a good marriage cannot inoculate us against wanderlust?” she asks. “What if passion has a finite shelf life? What if there are things that even a good relationship cannot give us?”
With this, she isn’t condoning affairs as an antidote to the predictable boredom or restlessness of a long term relationship. What she’s saying is that it’s complicated, that the answer to the question of why people stray is not black and white. It’s not simple. And it’s often not what we tend to think.