"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sex, Lies, And More Lies–There’s Got To Be A Better Way

Sex, lies….and more sex and lies. We are simply congenitally programmed to be unfaithful, and that’s that. Everyone knows the drill – staying late at the office, dinner with an old friend, quick trip into the city – and the only surprising thing about the charade is that we all fall for it hook, line, and sinker. 

It is so much work to deceive, all that plotting and creating. It is not easy to come up with a plausible excuse for coming home late or not at all, especially with a regular paramour. One can be en charrette for only so long before one’s partner begins to wonder how many late nights it takes to complete a proposal; or how many long-lost college friends can  possibly be passing through Charlotte.

I had a very punctilious friend who drew up a simplified spread sheet to keep track of his excuses.  His affair with Marge from Accounting had gone on for a number of months, and he was afraid of crossing or repeating his stories.  He operated on what he called The Theory of Intervals.  Most people, he argued, especially his wife, forget the details of anecdotes, stories, and tales after four or five weeks. By that time, dates, times, people, and venues get confused and confabulated, and the original story is as good as new. 

He classified his excuses as follows: Office, Old Friends, Drinks with the Guys, etc. His best – because its elements were fungible – was stringing together plausible excuses to add up the time.  For example, he might leave early on Saturday and come home by early dinner; and to cover for his long tryst with Marge he said that he first went to the gym, then had coffee with a friend, popped down to the office to pick up some papers, had lunch with a colleague who happened to be working as well, and finally took a walk on the Canal to get his remarks straight for Monday’s presentation.

Given the mathematical laws of permutations and combinations, he could work this ensemble many ways.  It didn’t matter whether he started off his Saturday with the gym or coffee; or whether he did or did not have lunch with a colleague. There were enough variables in the equation to keep his wife guessing and off guard.

Image result for images equations permutations

His carefully engineered duplicity worked very well; and his wife never suspected his excuses.  He was brought down, like many men, with ‘lipstick on the collar’ which in his case was an email from her that he mistakenly had ‘replied’ to his wife.  The jig was up, and it took him many months and cost many pounds of flesh before he could make things right and start up his serial delinquencies again.

I know of no men who get away completely.  Whether they are meticulously careful or cavalier, they get caught.  Some simply want to get caught.  They are weary from the effort of deceit, and are getting bored with the assignation.  There is only so much that one woman can possibly do, no matter how inventive; and even the most independent of them bring up ‘relationships’ and marriage. So subconsciously they let down their guard and presto! they are called on the carpet.

Others with less organizational talent than my friend, tell the wrong story at the wrong time, get the wires hopelessly crossed and concoct impossible Saturdays. Still others are simply caught in delicto flagrante by a common friend or neighbor.  Bill Flanders and his girlfriend were so drunk that they began grappling in the cab, and when they got into the lobby of The Brighton where she lived,  he said “Fuck it” and pulled his pants down right then and there.  As luck would have it, an older lady who was a member of the same exclusive women’s club as his wife, lived in the building and came in just at the wrong time.  To her credit, she said nothing; and looking straight ahead quickly walked up the stairs to her apartment.  She spilled the beans the next day, and Bill had to rein in his chariot until June.

Image result for images lovers stolen kisses

Now, the point of all this is that such dishonesty need not spoil a marriage.  Back in the Middle Ages, for example, there was no such thing as a love marriage; and all matrimony was sealed as a social or economic contract.  Henry II of England, for example, arranged to marry his six-year old son John to the heiress of Maurienne, a territory that commanded the passes of the Alps. As the historian Roland Bainton writes:

In all this there was almost no regard for personal feeling.  However the system made for stability in the institution of marriage; infidelities were tolerated and did not disrupt marriages.  And in some instances, to be sure, a tender mutual affection developed out of such arrangements (Christianity, 1964)

Only when Petrarch and Abelard and Heloise muddied the water and introduced the concept of courtly romantic love, did troubles start.  The idea that there might actually a thing called love was disruptive and destabilizing. Men and women were used to being bought and sold by their parents; but suddenly they realized that they were no more than commodities on the open market.  Love would not only release them from this emotional slavery but liberate their long-buried exhilarating passions. It was a mess.

Image result for images abelard and heloise

I lived in India for many years, and Indians made no bones about telling me that love marriages symbolized the fantasy and ignorant idealism of the West.  We foreigners didn’t realize that the world was illusion, that sexual desire was no more than a distraction from one’s spiritual development, and that we would spend a lot more time on the Wheel of Becoming than necessary.  Arranged marriages, they said, were the most sensible and practical.  If a good match were made – caste, color, profession, family, etc. – then the rest would take care of itself.  If in the unlikely event that husband and wife were to discover a mutual affection or even attraction, so much the better; but incidental love was only an irrelevant by-product.

Image result for image traditional indian marriage

As long as the marriage remained intact, the longevity of the family line was assured, and granny was well-taken care of, nothing else mattered.  One looked the other way when Mr. Gupta had his weekly sorties to the Cages in Bombay.  Low-caste adivasi women regularly slipped into the rice paddies with their lovers to escape the tedium of village life.

Image result for images cages of bombay

The harem for wealthy Turkish pashas or Saudi princes was the solution to the infidelity problem.  With enough wives, few men felt the need to stray outside the margins of traditional marriage.  If he was careful and paid attention, the high-class Arabian prince could choose ten uniquely beautiful women, one for each of his fantasies.

Image result for images 19th century saudi harem


The problem with all this is that Americans tried a new paradigm of sexual congress. “Love the one you’re with” was the mantra of the Sixties when the institution of marriage itself was challenged and rejected as hopeless bourgeois.  Now, fifty years later even gay men, who have been the most sexually liberated Lotharios ever, are getting married. What ever happened to the sexual liberation which would have unfettered us all from the traces of marriage?

The answer is women.  They have a lot more at stake in selecting and keeping a sexual partner than men.  After all, they are the ones who have to bear the child and take care of it, at least for a while; and if socio-geneticists are right, there is something to maternal instinct.  As most single mothers are finding out, raising a child with just one pair of hands is very difficult work; and as importantly, you have no one to blame but yourself if he goes off the rails. It is all well and good for men to be sexual Johnny Appleseeds, but a woman has hearth and home (and increasingly a job) to worry about.

It is surprising that there has been no compromise struck between free love and marriage.  Open marriages, for example, have a lot of promise.  Vita Sackville-West wrote about her open marriage to Harold Nicholson (Portrait of a Marriage) one which was mutually satisfying and gratifying. Their marriage prospered in the free and unrestrained sexual environment they created.  There were rules of engagement, and insistence on mutual respect; but other than that they flew on their own.

Image result for images harold nicolson and vita sackville-west

Since few of us are as wealthy as a Turkish pasha or Saudi prince; have rejected hippy-love and communal living; and have become more Puritanical than the Puritans, we are stuck with marriage, infidelity, lies, duplicity, hurt, and vindictive retribution.  We made our beds so we must lie in them; but there isn’t an American man alive who doesn’t think, “There’s got to be a better way.”

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