Through Google+ I've become acquainted with a prolific writer and highly original thinker, AV Flox. Her posts cover a wide range of science and social topics, but today I'd like to present three installments from her blog, Sex and the 405. All deal with differing dimensions of the temptation to become sexually involved with someone outside one's primary relationship.
Playing With Fire: When You're the One Who's Tempted is part personal anecdote, part reflection on the no-win struggle between the moral strictures imposed by society and religion on the one hand, and the very natural and healthy biological urges we feel on the other. Here's a teaser ~ " .... you can't avoid biology in this. You can't just say humans are blessed with free will and frown upon those who fail to toe the line when we're wired to be this receptive. We're unprepared to deny biology's drive. We choose instead to see it as a weakness, a gross manifestation of our lack of faith and inner strength. We suffer this almost inevitable shame to eventually ~ given enough shame and public penance ~ be told it happens to good people and be assured that we can get through it if we find our path again and work together as a couple. There is no prevention, only damage control. There is no script in place that spells out how to avoid it, no sensible dialog, certainly no amulet or potion, and no real guidelines other than: thou shalt not....
"My mother is right, just because you're married doesn't mean you're dead. You will desire. And just because you're attracted to someone physically or intellectually doesn't invalidate the oath you've made.
"It's what you do about desire that defines who you are and what that oath means to you .... In the pursuit of clarity, many have embraced various kinds of asceticism ~ some in seclusion, others within the world ~ living life with strict discipline in order to achieve lucidity .... Monogamy is a form of asceticism, a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various worldly pleasures, not because these are inherently evil, but because restraint brings focus.
" .... I would much rather discipline myself on the quest for balance, giving myself room to err and learn, in the hopes of one day being a complete human being. That, in the end, is all we can be."
The Proper Mistress illuminates how (if one so chooses) to go about choosing a safe lover. She or he "must have as much to lose as you do." In a clean extramarital affair, a lover must be discreet. "She must be able to abide by what she has agreed the relationship to be, able to manage her emotions, and equally committed to keeping the affair in the vault." The same applies to a male lover. He/she must be able to satisfactorily answer three questions ~
1. Do you understand what it means to have [or be] a mistress? You need a clear head and an understanding of how to compartmentalize.
2. Do you love your wife [or husband]? You need an unequivocal yes. If they hesitate, you can't do it, no matter how attracted you are. They're on their way out if they don't love their wife .... A mistress who's an exit is no mistress at all.
3. Would you leave your wife? The more reasons they have to stay, the better.
"Whatever you're looking for, she has to understand that she's a supplement, not a replacement .... You might fall in love. You can't help it. You can't stop it. What you have to understand is that you have to let it be just that .... the most important question you have to ask is of yourself ~ do you have what it takes to satisfy your cravings in a precise and measured way so you don't bring your home and everything in it crashing down? Tread with care."
Three Types of Mistresses: Which One Could You Become? helps us to understand that few aspects of temptation or infidelity are simple or easily pigeonholed. "There is a special chemistry to desire, which becomes even more complex when passion becomes love.
" .... It's a terrible fate to be a mistress if you love. A mistress will destroy a man's life if he loves her and leaves his family, but that love starts with a fracture, not a victory. Of course, if he doesn't leave, that mistress will be condemned to a live that is only a half-life."
The author lays out three women's stories as examples of three possible courses an affair may follow. The Accidental Mistress becomes a confrontational train wreck for everyone involved, through sheer ineptitude which verges into malice. The Devoted Mistress also ends in tragedy, even with the best of intentions. The One Who Ends Up a Wife takes a surprising turn, with not entirely satisfactory results. The point of each story is not to moralize. Quite the opposite ~ "Look beyond. Dare to be made uncomfortable by the complexity of a situation and understand that unless you're standing where they're standing, you'll never fully understand their reasons."
Each of the above links is a full article, and each article is provocative and candid. In sharing them, I take no stance for or against having an affair. Each of us has particular needs (met or unmet), particular values (instilled or self-discovered), a particular vision of a life well lived. In my lifetime I've left a former loved one, and I've been left. I've been the partner who followed desire outside my relationship, and I've been the one whose partner did so. I've also made the conscious decision to remain true to my partner. It is both possible and desireable to notice when attraction arises, enjoy it for what it is, and decline to act on it. Nurturing a single relationship with the Quality it deserves requires time, energy, imagination, and caring. Nurturing more than one, at this point in my life, would be unrealistic and draining, even if all involved were open to the arrangement. I've experienced variety. I want ~ no, I need ~ to experience and learn more about depth, with a single partner. It is a strong, primal urge in me. I don't expect others to choose my path. I hope that one particular person will.