A State Of Affair
By Amal Ghazali
Have you seen the film Closer? It’s a film starring Natalie Portman and Julia Roberts, which is basically good enough reason to watch something. I was doing some research for a book and came across this 2014 production. In short, it’s a film about four people having affairs, and how it impacted their lives and the lives of their spouses.
I’m not even sure if I would recommend seeing this movie. It was beautifully crafted, but painful to watch. After I was done I had to eat 2 bowls of ice cream just to pick myself up again. A movie about infidelity wouldn’t have really fazed me a few years ago, but these days the subject seem to be hovering closer within my radar.
Just recently there was a friend who was cheated on by his spouse. It ended their marriage and caused a lot of pain for them and their respective families. And if you’re over the age of 25, I am sure you would’ve at least heard about someone you know in real life who are involved with or have been affected by infidelity.
On one of those days when I found myself engrossed in a conversation with my usual group of girlfriends about cheating husbands, unfaithful wives and all the phone apps that you can download to discreetly monitor where and what your spouse is doing (yes, these apps exist! I was as surprised as you are), I found all these so overwhelming that I watched all 3 Bridget Jones movies just to feel hopeful again.
For someone who is yet to step into the world of lifetime partners and marital commitments, it scared the heck out of me. Anyone with half a brain knows that cheating is awful and hurts the ones we love, and yet despite our mostly practical grasp of that understanding, some of us are still unfaithful. The question is, why do we do it?
There are a lot of reasons as to why. If you read enough books, listen to enough stories, and watch enough movies, you’ll find that the list is endless.
We fell out of love with time, and I fell in love with someone else.
He stopped paying attention to me.
She let herself go.
Once, an acquaintance told me that upon confronting her husband about an affair, he admitted that he was doing it out of boredom.
Like I said, the list of reasons to justify unfaithfulness is varied and colourful.
But to begin with, the definition of cheating itself is subjective. Is exchanging prolonged texts considered cheating? Is emotional dependency on someone else that’s not your spouse considered infidelity? Must it only be physical? To add to the complexity, our lifestyles have changed. Affairs can now be virtual, not only physical. There are about a million different channels on the internet where a person could discreetly carry out shenanigans without suspicion. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. WeChat. Couchsurfing. Line. The choices are endless.
Eventually, we land on the conversation as to why. Why do people cheat?
Like other human behaviours, if you dig deep enough you’ll find that there is always a simplified reason as to why people behave the way they do, beyond the reasons they would actually tell you.
In a research done by Esther Perel, a renowned psychotherapist specialising in relationships, she found that the reason why someone is unfaithful would almost always boil down to the need to re-invent themselves.
As life with a stable spouse expands into the roles of partners and parents, a lot of people begin to feel that their true ‘selves’ are eclipsed by these responsibilities. With time, stable relationships can also fall into a plateau where things are no longer as exciting as they used to be in the beginning of courtship. Having affairs, it seems, is a way for some people to explore these facets of themselves they feel like they have lost.
Desire also comes into the picture upon analysing these situations. They are not necessarily the conventional aspects of desire we seem to easily associate with infidelity. Rather, it is more to do with self-entitlement. There is a desire to feel adored the way we used to be adored in the early stages of relationships. There is a desire to gain affection and awe elsewhere when we feel as though we are not getting what we deserve in our current relationships. We live in an age where self-fulfilment is deemed priority, and unfortunately some of us will abuse this philosophy through justifying affairs as a way to find these ‘fulfilments’.
Ownership Of Actions
It’s interesting to see that root cause of disloyalty is, for the most part, our own internal turmoil. It’s even more interesting to observe that pretty much all destructive behaviours are eventually a resultant of our inability to address our personal struggles in a healthy way, and less about how others treat us.
It’s always easy to justify infidelity by finding the blame on how the other one treats us. From an outsider’s point of view, I’ve heard this story plot one too many times. But I’ve always wondered if these situations could have been salvaged should we have taken better ownership of our own reactions.
No relationship is perfect, and there will always be a time when we are not necessarily treated the way we expect to be treated by our significant other. There will always be something else that’s more seductive somewhere. There will always be times when the grass seem greener on the other side. But in the end, the determinant of these situations will always be our own selves and our own reactions.
And to quote a line from the movie Closer, “there’s a moment. There’s always a moment – I can do this, I can give into this, or I can resist it”. I happen to think that there is so much truth to this, as the choice for anything in this life is always essentially, our own.