Decided to read Catherine Hakim's book entitled The New Rules; Internet, Playfairs & Erotic Power. Found it on sale secondhand and considered it a bargain. I had heard mixed reviews and decided to find out for myself whether her argument, that the rules of marriage are changing, is convincing.
Basically, she is suggesting, from the social research that she has undertaken, that the Internet is creating a whole new landscape for married people who wish to have extra marital relationships. Her research is not concerned with what might be termed an 'asymmetric affair', that is one wherein there is some notion of the misery for the unmarried woman who has fallen in love with a wealthy man and is convinced that the wife will be dumped for her. (There is no discussion about those affairs where there is no wealth to cushion the misery of being the other woman. She cites the work of Sarah Symond in her book 'Having an Affair' who believes that there must be financial benefits to compensate for the distress of the disappointed mistress. Perhaps this is another piece of research?)
Instead, Hakim is interested in what she terms the symmetrical or 'balanced' affair where both parties are married and intend to remain married. In fact, these affairs can be considered to be a help to the marriage as long as they remain private and never intrude on the spouse. "Accounts of married men and women who have affairs show that few are indeed hoping for an escape route out of an unsatisfactory marriage, but the majority are complementing a stable marriage with the additional excitement and novelty of an affair or brief fling" (p64).
For individuals who seek this type of relationship the Internet may be changing the way we behave. Firstly, we are living much longer and there may be valid reasons not to expect to only have sex with your spouse, and secondly the Internet provides a very wide pool of opportunity to those who would wish to ensure total discretion by dating someone unknown, out of the area, also seeking extra marital relations.
So, this is going on now. Hakim is not suggesting that this is how it should be, but that this is how it is, and it does not necessarily require a knee jerk response of disappointment, disbelief or disgust. If completely discreet and the spouse never finds out, might it be a perfectly acceptable behaviour? Does the English response to adultery need to reflect a more European stance?
Well, I'm of the opinion, call me old fashioned if you will, that morals play an important role in our behaviour and no matter what opportunity may present itself you can still believe in the sanctity of marriage. I think an open marriage is totally different. If two people, married to each other agree to extra marital relations then this is just consenting adults doing what they think is the best for them. However, when I consider the cuckolded spouse I am conscious of the lies and deceit that are part of the turf of this type of behaviour which in turn destroys trust, the bedrock of any meaningful relationship.
It may not be possible to remain with one person for life, but might it be possible to learn to navigate marital difficulties openly and honestly and if necessary, split up. It seems to me that the betraying spouse is keeping all their options open at the expense of their spouse who has no control over what is happening because they have not been told the truth. Equally, what about the suspicions that the betrayed spouse feels? When confronted with these doubts does the unfaithful spouse just deny them. This all seems so wrong. Rather than new rules, perhaps what is required is simply a more laissez faire view of what being married means but both partners need to share the view.