Recently while reconnecting with an old college buddy, we found ourselves on the topic of relationships. He has been married over 20 years and has engaged in extramarital affairs the entire time. I told him I have a habit of declining the advances of married men because morality aside, I recognize that I would be dissatisfied in such a relationship.
"Why?" he wanted to know.
I explained that the idea of deception being a prerequisite to being with someone is a turnoff. Secondly, my needs for freedom, flexibility, and access in a relationship would be difficult to meet in such an arrangement. Not to mention the fact that I also have a great respect for woman's intuition and believe that very few wives with straying husbands remain unaware for long, and I am disinterested in dramatics, conflict or being a party to unnecessary heartache. And yes, I do believe the laws of karma make it impossible to build my happiness on top of another person's unhappiness. When I finished my list of reasons, my college buddy burst out laughing.
"Girl, your standards are too high! Women are facing a choice and they are asking themselves: Do I want to have no man? Do I want a no-good man? Or do I want a piece-of-a-good-man?"
Never mind his comments about my standards, I was curious to know what measuring device he was using to hold himself up as a "good man!" To his mind, his ability to maintain employment that pays him a salary above the national average coupled with his conviction that he knows how to treat a woman with respect makes him a good man. Seriously, does he really believe lying is a sign of respect? Clearly the women in his life are all willing to settle for their share of this man; he is part-time-good-man to his wife and a-piece-of-a-good-man to all of the others.
His definition of a "good man" includes willfully lying, cheating, and as a matter of habit, practicing duplicity and all manner of deceptive means for achieving his objectives. Now, I am all for people doing what makes them happy, however, I do find it interesting that someone over the age of 21, who is finally free from the threat of "getting in trouble" from Mommy or Daddy, chooses lying as a means to get what they want, and yet holds themselves up as a good person.
While I do not necessarily equate monogamy with fidelity and I do believe it is possible to be loyal, trustworthy and committed in a relationship that is non-monogamous, the questions that beg to be asked are: Why get married in the first place? Why promise monogamy, and then "Bernie-Madoff" your way through the marriage defrauding the people you profess to love, while deliberately doing the opposite of what you promised? What is the value of this behavior? Why is marriage so compelling even when one finds its ground rules running in opposition to his or her natural inclinations?
Marriage as an institution is a failure in its efforts to morph from its original secular intention as a business arrangement designed to protect the family name, property and other interests, into the most common societal expression of love and fidelity. In most other arenas, a mere 50% success rate would be considered a failure. Yet when enough people believe in something it becomes part of the fabric of our collective consciousness, coloring our motivations. Despite these odds, people insist on jumping in to the matrimonial ring like so many gamblers yearning to be the lucky winner at the black jack table.
Statistics of declining marriage rates in favor of cohabitation without the papers have not necessarily shifted the dynamics of relationships. Many of these arrangements operate like marriages even without the contract, and are just as challenging in the same ways and for the same reasons as marriages. As human beings we have needs that at times seem to be at cross purposes. We want security but we love freedom; we want to be considered "good" so when we judge our proclivities as "bad", we hide the truth of our real desires and actions hoping they will remain secret; we want variety in people and experiences, but too often fail to figure out how to satisfy this need without hurting ourselves and others.
It's time to hold the institution of marriage up for closer inspection; to analyze why it fails as often as it succeeds and why there seems to be an epidemic of extramarital affairs as a solution to dealing with our complex human needs and emotions. In addition it might be a worthy exercise to examine our cultural perceptions of the value of integrity and ethics in relationships, and to reconsider our definitions of what constitutes a good relationship, a good woman or a good man. Perhaps it is time to create a new paradigm of expressing loving relationships -- one that has the capacity to honor the human need for connection as well as our need for freedom, and that manages to embody the intimate and infinite at the same time.