Asymmetry: a post about adultery

Via Chateau Heartiste, I am alerted to a Telegraph article arguing that men should allow their wives to cheat on them because monogamy is particularly difficult for women.

Of course, this being a socially conservative blog, one of my jobs is to deplore these sorts of things.  However, I found myself in surprising agreement with one of Mrs. Martin’s unstated assumptions.  She argues

“Why is it better to get a divorce and move on when you simply decide “I don’t fancy him anymore”, or the spark is gone…What a trail of destruction you might save yourself from creating if you said instead:  is there something [i.e. open infidelity] we can do here”?

Sexual fidelity is one of the duties of marriage.  There are others.  Kasperite Catholics forget this when they roll out the red carpet for adulterers who have also abandoned their spouses and children (or abandoned their spouses and deprived their children of their father, as the case may be) for a fake second marriage, while these same “merciful” Catholics have showed less interest in accommodating adulterers who have not abandoned their families.  Not that the latter deserve accommodation, but solicitude for the former gives the impression that we care less about violated duties than bourgeois respectability, which is satisfied as well by a simulated marriage as by a real one.  Even orthodox Catholics are too comfortable with accepting those in second marriages who agree to live “as brother and sister”.  Even if any such couples exist, they are ceasing to violate only one of their wedding vows.  Most likely, their true spouses don’t want them back, but let us please give some consideration to those forgotten other vows.

Having an affair is less immoral than divorcing one’s spouse.

Mrs. Martin holds other assumptions that I find more questionable.  If a woman loses sexual attraction for her husband, is it really likely that having sex with another man she is attracted to will make her more content with her marriage?  I admit to being no expert on matters of the heart, but I don’t think that’s how women’s psyches work.

If she were to be fully honest, she wouldn’t speak about a Christmas gift “pass”, with the implication that an unfulfilled woman will only need to cheat once or a small number of times.  Once one has committed a sexual sin once, it is more difficult to abstain from it in the future.  There is a satiation immediately after sexual gratification, but it doesn’t last, and one’s motivation to resist is thereafter significantly weakened.  After all, you’re already an adulteress.  You can’t say anymore that sex is something special reserved for one man or that you’re not that kind of girl.  What difference does it make if you do it n or n+1 times if n>0?  (By the way, that’s the liberating effect of the sacrament of reconciliation:  it resets your counter.  I don’t see how anyone once stumbled could recover chastity without this sacrament.)  Usually the determining factor in fighting sexual temptation is not the strength of the temptation but the strength of the will to resist.  Of course, if she enjoys her affair, then the temptation to continue will grow as well.  Nobody says to herself “That was the best sex I’ve ever had.  Now I never need to do it again.”  It would be very difficult to escape from this trap.

Note that only women get an adultery pass.  I doubt this new double standard could work as well as the old one.  Men having affairs has always been regarded as wrong; the old double standard was that, while it was condemned, people were not as upset about it as they were about a wife’s infidelity (for obvious biological reasons).  But our new earnest and self-righteous cultural elite is not civilized enough to be hypocritical.  They proclaim their adulteries a right and direct their indignation at any wronged husband who reproaches them.  Men winked at each others’ adulteries as a concession to weakness; women will defend each others’ adulteries as a display of strength.  By the time he is 12 years old, every man knows he has a weakness for, and an unhealthy obsession with, sex.  He knows perfectly well that it is something that must be restrained, even if he often fails to properly restrain it.  Women generally don’t have to incorporate such truths into their self-image, and when female writers do confront antisocial aspects of their sexuality, they conclude that society must change rather than that women must be restrained (at least as a public stance, whatever we may turn a blind eye to in private) for the common good.

7 Responses

  1. Ironically even gangsters believe in temperance after a fashion. It is well known that if you let your appetites get the best of you, it will make you a less effective criminal, and worse, a liability to the rest of the gang. If you’re wiling to compromise the group for a woman, that’s worst of all.

    It takes real virtue to be really vicious.

  2. In a word: Hypergamy.

  3. “monogamy is particularly difficult for women”

    No, what’s difficult is being married to a low status man when they think they deserve a high status one.

  4. Only tangential to your observations, but it struck me some time recently that a less-explored part of the reason, in Western cultures (or at least Anglo-Frankish cultures), that male adultery is seen as the lesser sin is that men were broadly expected to be responsible for the results of their peccadilloes and those of women under their care. You have a baby by your mistress, you care for the baby (and of course the mistress). Your daughter has an illicit baby, you either care for said child or force the man at issue to do so.

    The get of common women are exempted from this, but they are also exempted from at least some of the stigma of adultery as well. Having relations with a prostitute is a different sin, socially speaking.

    Unsurprisingly this isn’t an ironclad law, but its exceptions are telling.

  5. […] “Having an affair is less immoral than divorcing one’s spouse,” declared, Bonald, rightly — Asymmetry: a post about adultery: […]

  6. Arghhh! So where does this leave me then? How do I continue with a man who broke all the rules, promised it will never happen again, but the trust, the trust has gone. The disappointment fills me every day. God I wish I had some answers.

  7. Um, as gently as possible, if you’re looking for direction in such a situation from the comments section of a blog on the Internet, you’re looking in the wrong place. I suggest instead you talk to a priest whom you have vetted and whom you can trust.

    In any case, I’ll say an Ave for you, because that’s what I can do beyond recognizing your pain.

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