Unfaithful and Obsessed: Our Love Affair With Affairs
Many people out there will remember that infamous week when the media bombarded us with the hacking of the so-called "infidelity website," Ashley Madison.
Every night on the news for several days millions of Ashley Madison subscribers were outed for their adulterous deeds, and it was the punchline for late night talk shows for days on end.
Who or what is Ashley Madison? Ashley Madison is a Canadian-based website that specifically targets those who are unsatisfied in their own marriages or committed relationships.
The website matches users up with "play dates" so that they can go ahead and live out the rest of their lives in "happiness". Ashley Madison's slogan says, "Life is short. Have an affair."
Of course, this clever slogan appeals to all those who are in the throes of a mid-life, or even an early-life crisis and are afraid they're going to die soon, missing out on all the fun they could have had. It's genius really.
Many people do irrational things when they think they might die soon. Why not go out with a bang? Well, at least according to Ashley Madison.
All bad puns aside, it's wasn't really the fact that married people were having affairs that shocked anyone. It was the fact that there were so many of them, and that they were enlisting the help of an online service dedicated to enabling secret affairs.
Infidelity is probably one of the most talked about, read about, written about, and filmed subjects out there.
It's not just Americans trying to find online affairs either. According to Wikipedia, the Ashley Madison site served 39 million people in 53 countries. But infidelity is not so much an international issue as a human issue.
Infidelity is probably one of the most talked about, read about, written about, and filmed subjects out there.
There are countless books and movies dedicated to infidelity/adultery, not to mention murder mysteries. Have you watched, "Dateline, Real life Mysteries" recently? More people seem to kill their spouses over infidelity than we could ever fathom.
The leap to blame the internet for all this is understandable, but in truth, infidelity has been an issue for a while, since the biblical days. Why else would there be so much reference to adultery in the bible?
"It is not difficult to deceive the first time, for the deceived possesses no antibodies; unvaccinated by suspicion, she overlooks lateness, accepts absurd excuses, permits the flimsiest patching to repair great rents in the quotidian."
- John Updike
The debate about whether it's natural for humans to be monogamous is still raging, and I'm not sure there will ever be a resolution to that one. There may be a number of different elements involved in the evolution of adulterous behavior, ranging from personality, past experiences, or even which culture you grew up in.
For instance, in Danish society, infidelity is not as frowned upon as it is in America. The Danes, culturally, do not link having sex with someone outside the marriage with playing any role in emotional attachment, therefore it's not seen as such a substantial dalliance.
In Chinese culture, there is far more social shaming associated with infidelity, so traditionally, it's not as accepted. In theory, one could assume this means people in this culture are far less likely to commit adultery or at least be open about it.
In America, there is a massive distraction with infidelity within the culture, which some people think could play a role in the rampant instances of adultery. In other words, we have cheating on the brain, therefore we are more likely to act upon what is always on our mind.
"This society is so obsessed with sex and affairs in general that it's unlikely our obsession with it will ever subside."
The Cultural Obsession
Why is adultery even an issue at all? Why are we so obsessed with it in America?
If it's such a horrible sin then why are there so many TV shows and movies devoted to the subject?
The TV show "Cheaters" is watched by millions who, apparently, enjoy watching others get caught in the act of adultery by their significant others.
This must be an enjoyable form of voyeurism for some, I suppose. There are TV talk shows dedicated to helping the "healing" process for couples who have had extramarital affairs but still want to be together.
Usually, it's the men who have the affairs, or at least that's what we're told. It could be that women are just better at keeping secrets. But if there wasn't a "rule" about being monogamous, then none of this would even matter. It's the taboo factor centered around infidelity that is the real obsession.
As a culture, we love to hate, and we love to feel guilty about doing bad things. It's the ultimate aphrodisiac. And it's not just that it's against the rules, it's the fact that we want to go against the rules, because when people commit "sins" in this country, it gets sensationalized and glamorized to no end.
Movies like "Unfaithful" are endlessly poetic in nature and romanticize the idea of having an affair. Usually, the characters involved are gorgeous and impossibly tragic.
In "Unfaithful" it was actually the housewife having the affair with an exotic, handsome, younger man, and it was the illicit sex and romance between two sexy people that everyone flocked to the theaters to see. In the end of that movie someone dies, as is common in these types of films. Hollywood does not allow an affair without consequences, and we just can't stop watching it.
"The issue of infidelity is not a new one, and it doesn't appear to be going anywhere, anytime soon."
The Other Woman
Although there are married women who have affairs, the majority of the offenders do appear to be men. So, who are these women having secret affairs with men who are either married or committed? Are they social vampires who want nothing more than to destroy relationships?
Maybe one or two of them, but the vast majority are just regular women who get caught up in something they probably weren't intending. Hollywood movies, in general, do seem to portray "the other woman" as desperate, destructive, or mentally ill.
In movies such as "Fatal Attraction," or more recently, "Obsessed," the woman with whom the man in question has the indiscretion with always seems to take the fall.
It's generally the fault of the "other woman", as if, she alone, were the instigator. The man is usually portrayed as some sort of sitting duck, helpless to control his own urges when advances are made.
The wife or girlfriend is almost always portrayed as the boring stay at home mom, or a high-powered business woman who is too distracted by her job to pay attention to her man. In these types of movies, inevitably, the wife or girlfriend confronts the other women, and then there is some sort of epic battle over the cheating man.
Usually, the other woman suffers a horrible end to her reign of relationship terror, either by death or some other horrible consequence. Very rarely is the man blamed as much for the indiscretion as the other woman is. This is true in Hollywood and in the real world.
"According to my sister, the expert novelist Jackie Collins, most men stray. And sex doesn't mean anything to most men. But I wouldn't date a man who slept around. Absolutely not. I've divorced people for that."
In the movie, "Match Point," the husband has an affair with a sensuous woman to escape his boring life as he knows it. Everything is going well for him while he keeps his affair a secret, but in the end, it's his mistress that loses. She winds up pregnant and he decides the best way to get rid of the problem is to kill her.
Basically, she served her purpose, but once things got too complicated for the husband to handle, he resorts to homicide. It's pretty horrifying, but it's these types of sensational portrayals that keep audiences wanting more movies about more illicit affairs.
"Husbands are chiefly good lovers when they are betraying their wives."
- Marilyn Monroe
One of the most notable movies documenting an affair that destroyed lives was "Damage". In this movie, the other woman was so enticing and so seductive that a married man and his son both fall in love with her. The movie does a brilliant job describing the bloom of lust and how people can get carried away when having secret affairs, losing all sense of rationality.
Getting involved in the taboo of secrecy can be an exhilarating sensation, but then when all the threads start to fall apart, the aftermath can be severe. In the end of the film, most of the characters are left with nothing and become empty shells of what their lives were before the affair.
Juliette Binoche, who plays "the other woman" in the film, is a character who readily admits to being "damaged" and already knows the destruction she is going to cause within the family, but does it anyway. One of her lines in the movie is, "Damaged people are the most dangerous because they know they can survive."
The devastation of affairs is a real problem, especially when children are involved. If a husband or wife is expecting their spouse to be faithful, then it can be quite a shock to discover they are either seeing someone else or subscribed to an online website looking for a new partner.
The issue of infidelity is not a new one, and it doesn't appear to be going anywhere, anytime soon.
The most important factors in affairs seem to be a lack of honesty in relationships, the glorification of secrecy, and the way in which affairs are viewed in this society. We say affairs are a "bad" thing, yet we embrace all manners of media that endorse the behavior.
This society is so obsessed with sex and affairs in general that it's unlikely our obsession with it will ever subside. For those people who are okay with their partners going outside of their relationship to seek affection, that is their choice. For those people who want to be in committed, monogamous relationships, this world that glamorizes secret affairs can be quite overwhelming.
"The one indisputable point is that, as a society, we love to watch affairs. We love to watch people falter due to their own desires. We love to watch them crash and burn. We also love to watch people survive affairs."
The reason as to why affairs are so rampant could be due to a variety of contributors besides our attitudes towards them. Having the number of women in the workplace being almost equal to men plays a part.
It's inevitable that when you mix men and women together in any situation for an extended period of time, sharing interests and jobs together, that the chances of indiscretion go up. And let's not forget same-sex affairs. Those happen as well, quite often.
Really, it all comes down to decisions and remembering that we are all responsible for the commitments we make. If more people communicated honestly to their spouses about their needs, then affairs may happen less.
The one indisputable point is that, as a society, we love to watch affairs. We love to watch people falter due to their own desires. We love to watch them crash and burn. We also love to watch people survive affairs. Part of human nature is to have a curiosity about things others within our society consider "taboo".
That curiosity doesn't seem to be fading anytime soon.