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Home / Lifestyle Experiments  /
The Screwing Around Prescription
cheating partner

Cheating on your spouse or partner may be just what the doctor wishes he could order


Technology, gender roles, and work definitions have changed immeasurably in the last century.  The mechanics of relationships, however, continue to look very much the same.

There've been some minor allowances.  A June 1964 magazine article in Life, then a major newsweekly, profiles how Hollywood police closed gay hang outs near Santa Monica Blvd.  One bar owner hung a sign in his bar "Fagots [sic] -- Stay Out!"  This behavior would be seen as reprehensible fifty years on.  Same sex marriage is now legal in twenty U.S. states, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Spain, Sweden, and ten more countries, with still more inevitably on the way.  Miscegenation laws were enforced in some U.S. states until 1967.  Nowadays, no one bats an eyelash spotting a Caucasian married or dating an Asian, Black, or Hispanic.  Cohabitation, while not quite mainstream worldwide yet, is readily accepted and considered a viable union in some nations.  In Scandinavia, they have a real term for it besides "living together," and there is no stigma propagating without being legally married first.  Blended families are common.

I call these minor allowances, as major as they may seem to the communities which benefited, because all that's been done is to extend the accepted definition of a union and its accouterments to once disenfranchised alternative lifestyle communities.  What's considered proper and permitted within the confines of these unions is about the same as it was a hundred years ago. 

Let's examine the typical wedding vow, which wouldn't differ much if the union were between homosexuals, heterosexuals, mixed races, or interplanetary species.  One party vows to take the other as a faithful partner, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do us part.

On the face, these are ideal wedding vows for the ideal union, where people are able to pick their truly ideal partners.  One person complements the other perfectly in every way.  I am sure these vows originated in Europe sometime during the Romantic period toward the end of the eighteenth century, a very unromantic time except in name.

It's certainly a romantic ideal to live up to though.  What person wouldn't want a partner whom s/he could consult for business advice, to proofread his or her latest novel, polish stand up comedy routines, tighten up business plans, trek through national parks with, practice newfound language skills, cook 5-course gourmet feasts, and to have and to hold, love and cherish, till death do us part?  

Yet, in reality, I've seen few such unions.  In my parents' generation and before, people got married a year or two out of college.  Getting married was like mandatory military service.  Between such-and-such ages, you did it.  In modern day Korea and in India, you're expected to be married by 30. In India, your parents will insure you're married by arranging a suitable spouse.  You're not exiled if you don't tie the knot by that age, but you will find yourself gradually marginalized as you witness nearly all of your peers conforming to these societal expectations. 

There was no arranged marriage tradition or strict married-by-30 expectation where I grew up, so, in theory anyway, people had the freedom to hold out as long as they pleased.  They could wait until they met their ideal match for which such romantic wedding vows could be apt.  In practice, it didn't really matter.  Everyone bows to societal convention to some degree.  At some point, for some reason, most settle for what's in front of them and it falls far short of any romantic ideal. 

I am not saying that most of these individuals are locked into tortuously unhappy unions at any one time.    In Does The Institution Of Marriage Belong In An Institution, I said that marriage should be considered a partnership of fulfillment and happiness profits.  In a freeish society where there's no stigma not being married, I take it that most people are rational enough to be happier within the union than outside of it or else they'd end it.  But that doesn't necessarily translate into people being happy.  One can be happier by being slightly less miserable.

Look at how stocks are priced in the stock market.  You have your rational indicators like earnings per share.  And then there are the intangibles like future expectations.  If a particular industry is hot and a business within it is in possession of a new technology, future expectations can become insane and bid up the stock price to stratospheric levels.  Think of the internet bubble in the early 2000's.  When the expectations aren't met (for the business or for the marriage), the value plunges.    

It all really comes down to expectations.  Most people don't marry a soul mate.  This is not a reason to shed a tear.  Most profitable businesses don't boast multibillion dollar market capitalizations.  Why would most 'profitable' unions need to?  A union can remain sustainable and yield some cache of fulfillment and happiness profits as long as each party knows what s/he's signed up for and benefits from those terms.   I know of couples who've been in less-than-ideal marriages for over 40 years.  The sad part is that both people could have wound up happier with other partners.  On the other hand, each is probably happier in the union the way it stands than if s/he were alone.  At this point in time, it's difficult to assess the opportunity costs.  Who's to say that under the same constraints 40 years ago, these couples would have been able to make substantially better decisions?

People get into unions for different reasons, most of them less than ideal.  To stave off loneliness.  To appease their parents or society.  To have children.  Because their jobs demand it.  To cover up their sexual orientation.  For the union to yield 'profits' and thus remain sustainable, each party in the union has to be profiting from it. 

You don't have to think too hard to come up with lists of less-than-ideal unions.  The model and stripper Anna Nicole Smith married oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall in 1994.  She was 26, he was 89.  The union was never a picture postcard of marital bliss.   She reportedly never lived with him or slept with him. He was quite old to begin with and died just fourteen months later.  She probably went into the union for the financial security and he for sexy companionship during his final years.  The irony is that he didn't get the companionship for very long and by the time Nicole Smith died of a drug overdose in 2007, she hadn't been able to collect on any of his lucrative estate.  

The movie star Rock Hudson got married to his agent's secretary, Phyllis Gates, and was quoted as saying, "When I count my blessings, my marriage tops the list."  He wasn't lying.  His marriage was a blessing, engineered as a cover story for his very active homosexual extracurricular life.  The marriage was profitable for his wife, too.  They divorced three years later, and she was paid out $130,000 over the next decade. 

These two examples are very extreme cases.  Let's use one closer to home.  I have a friend my age in Korea.  We'll call him Minjoon.  He was married once before.  At age 40, he got married for the second time and celebrated his honeymoon in Thailand, which is how I met him.  The inside scoop was that his newlywed wife was four months pregnant already, a stigma back in Korea.  He probably would have married her anyway, but with her bearing his unborn daughter, he wasn't left with a choice. 

Whenever he pleases, which is usually every weekend, he has no issue leaving his wife behind with the two young kids, both a handful.  One weekend he'll go camping with his buddies, another mountain biking.  When I'm in Korea, he'll dedicate all day to hiking with me in the mountains around Seoul.  His behavior angers my wife.  She commented that he's a great guy but a lousy husband.  He might be a lousy husband for my wife, but how bad of a husband is he really within his own union?  To me, it looks like a profitable and sustainable marriage.   He was nearing forty, worked for a multinational company, and needed a wife to fit the part.  It doesn't look good in Korea to be a nonconformist bachelor.  His wife-to-be wasn't much younger, wanted a family, and her biological clock was running out of ticks.  The implicit agreement for this marriage to work was that he'd be the provider and still enjoy his free time while she stayed at home to raise the family she always desired.  Each party got what s/he signed up for. 

Let's imagine J. Howard Marshall was screwing around on Anna Nicole Smith during their courtship and short marriage.  After all, he met her in a strip club and didn't live with her.  Would it have affected their partnership?  Smith was in that relationship for the financial security.  If Marshall kept providing her with an affluent lifestyle, she'd continue to get a return on her investment. 

Rock Hudson actually did screw around on Phyllis Gates.  She separated from him after Rock had an affair in Italy  -- with a man.  After her death in 2006, an article in a gay magazine documented how all Hudson's contemporaries knew Gates was a confirmed lesbian all along.   Where wealth and fame are concerned and when big money changes hands, an infidelity matters little.  It's already factored into the negotiation.  

In more normal unions, it's just assumed by both parties that there won't be extracurricular activity.  More accurately, it's taken as a given that there will be no talk of external activities.   Take Minjoon's marriage, which is probably similar to millions of marriages the world over:  two people willing to settle for a less than ideal.  The parties aren't all that compatible but each meets the other's basic needs for the marriage to stay profitable.  In these instances, would it hurt the marriage for either party to get action on the side?  

I argue that screwing around has the potential to SAVE marriages, certain kinds of marriages for people who aren't big risk takers.  Those locked into less-than-ideal unions may not be all that attracted to their partners.  They may not even love them.  Their responsibility within the union is to provide their partner with the environment and circumstances for a better shake than life alone.  Without intimacy, one or both might be tempted to end what is an otherwise 'successful' marriage.  In seeking what's missing elsewhere, one party lets the marriage live on for another day.  Screwing around is likely what's kept Bill and Hilary Clinton's marriage alive for so long.  Each used the other for a political and financial partnership that has reaped huge rewards for them both over the years.  Why should Bill getting caught with his pants down on numerous occasions destroy the empire they've constructed?   

Personally, I don't endorse the screwing around approach.  I know most people can't maintain firm and rational control over their adultery.  They explore outside the marriage too often, conduct full blown affairs they cover up with lies, or stupidly flaunt their mistresses. Whatever the marriage might have had going for it gets flushed down the toilet.  In Asia, it's quite common for rich men to have "projects" on the side.  Their wives may know about them, but look the other way as long as the husband continues to honor the terms of their marriage agreement and not embarrass the wife by devoting too much time to his other entree.   It's all too easy to become addicted to juggling multiple partners, and addictions destroy relationships and lives.

As an example of a tasteful way to conduct fresh explorations, I think of the movie Same Time, Next Year, iin which Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn, both happily married to other partners, conduct an affair over a 26 year period by meeting at the same hotel at the same time the following year.  They never see or call each other in the interim.  Each adds something that's missing to the other's life without compromising the primary union.     

In an ideal relationship, your spouse provides you with enough emotional, spiritual, and physical support.  Screwing around in the name of saving that union becomes a lame rationalization.  What's to save?  You've now brought yourself to the point of what's left to destroy.  For everyone else stuck in an average though profitable union and not willing to end it to find something more profitable, an illicit tryst performed rarely with someone you'll never or hardly ever see again could breathe new life into an otherwise dead corpse.  Or at least yield a few fresh insights. 

And if it won't, you can stop kidding yourself the union has any mileage left.  You can bail out before the gas tank is completely empty.  


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