Needless to say it is difficult for people in committed relationships to deal with infidelity. And yet statistics demonstrate how rampant it actually is (despite the fact that most survey participants are understably unwilling to admit to having cheated) - so much higher than what we as part of society know or are willing to acknowledge.
A non-sexual emotional encounter can hurt as much (perhaps more than) a one night-stand. My direct interaction with various people over the past couple of years has forced me to acknowledge how prevalent infidelity is. It is not possible for us to relegate this phenomenon to a distant reality that is removed from our own circumstances and day to day lives - it does not have the unreality or glamour associated with a celebrity scandal. It has the mundaneness of ordinary, normal, happy people leading middle class urban lives who are driven to step outside the bounds of societal relationships to seek fulfillment in form or the other. Financially independent women no longer feel the need to turn the other way when faced with the evidence of philandering husbands. And the given the parity in earning capacity, financial dependence of the wife is not enough to make a husband feel guilty or restrain a dissatisfied wife to explore respective options outside their marriage/relationship.
There are three people involved in these situations - the cheater, the cheated and the outsider. The most obvious victim is the cheated. One can only imagine the kind of hurt and betrayal that person goes through - to have his/her world collapse as the premises and assumptions that formed the basis of the relationship is revealed for all it was not. Then, the cheated and the outsider become the villains. Villains who selfishly sought their own happiness at the cost of the cheated. If only life were this simple! The truth is it is not easy to say that the cheated was completely without blame. Neither is it easy to say that the cheater and the outsider were only out to have a good time. But how does the cheated reconcile with the happiness that his/her partner found with someone else without including him/her? How can the cheated find in him/herself the forgiveness and acceptance to acknowledge that what he/she had built lovingly with the partner was not enough - that this partner found a gap so big in the relationship that he/she sought out someone else instead of working on mending and strengthening the relationship?
Relationships are not easy. The blame has to be apportioned where due.
I found it bizarre when a dear friend thought it was traditional to have 'some fun' on his bachelor trip in Amsterdam. Putting the geographical distance between his home and the exotic destination, the blessings of popular culture, the idea of what is cool, made it OK for him to be intimate with a sex worker. His fiancé in India simply rolled her eyes and agreed with his friends that she need not find out what happened on that trip - that what happened in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam (!!!!) My friend was OK with this because this is what movies have said is expected and accepted. It is completely unexceptional to have fun 'one last time' ahead of a lifetime of commitment. His fiancé was OK because she told herself that by allowing him this one occasion of indulgence and by refusing to ask for details, she had procured his loyalty for the rest of their married life. I think only I discerned a certain tightness in her lips and a forced gaiety.
It was painful to watch another friend deal with her husband's rationale that having fun with his gay friends was not exactly cheating because he was not connecting with another woman - so her place as his wife was secure. Her family and in-laws agreed with the twisted logic, becasue in practical terms this did not harm their marriage since he did fulfill all other obligations as a husband. They refuse to see her hurt when she paces up and down every evening waiting for her husband to come home, wondering if he is on a date or actually at work as he claims, when he wears her dresses and preens before the mirror, when he brings his special friends to their home. My friend is adamant on making the marriage work - so she is tortourously convincing herself against better judgement that her position as the wife remains unassailed.
And then there was the dear friend who discovered that for almost a year her husband had been exchanging romantic messages and emails with a woman he met on social media who was ten years younger to him and who when confronted, admitted that he was in love with this other lady. He admitted that while he remained committed to their marriage he did find a certain stimulation in this other relationship that was missing in their marriage. That he thought this arrangement was OK because it was non-sexual and he had never even met the other lady - they simply spoke on the phone or texted all the time and at every available opportunity. He justified this because his love for his wife did not diminish one bit and he only found some additional happiness which made him a better person and a better husband. Here too my friend wanted to make the marriage work. She began to try and identify what went wrong in their marriage that drove her husband to another woman and truly believed that since her husband loved her (and simply loved one other woman in addition and not in substitution), this was alright.
Another girl was shattered to find out weeks before her wedding that her fiancé had never broken up with his ex-girl friend. That he was still as madly in love with this other girl who, because of health and other family problems never held a job and was dependent on him financially and emotionally. Becasue of this dependence, he could never make a clean break and so continued to 'keep' her, even as he prepared to marry someone else. In his mind there was a clear bifurcation between the two relationships - both were premised on love - but in his head the kinds of loves involved were not at cross roads. each of the two relationships was independent of the other and it was alright for him to keep both alive and going. he rationalised that love as a concept was so wide and deep that to confine it to one relationship recognised by society was neither convenient nor conducive. My friend found she could not accommodate this weird ménage a trios and called off the wedding and continues to weep every day (even months after the incident) wondering if she could not have after all accepted this situation than be so alone.
In all these instances that I have come across, the person who stepped outside the relationship was committed to the relationship in principle. I know each of the persons is genuinely fond of the respective spouse/partner. But then each thought it was OK to find something extra, a zing, a connect, a simulation, a muse that provided an emotional/ sexual/ creative enrichment.
Do these reasons really make sexual/emotional/mental cheating alright? Aren't we humans meant to be like swans who mate for life? Are there actually limits to monogamous relationships that we ought to accept? Isn't true love all all about being together forever and ever and to the exclusion of all else?
We have long dreary lives ahead of us. We do not want lonely journeys. We are constantly looking for the special one. That special someone is meant to share the journey with us, trod the rough and smooth paths, the ups and the downs. Then is it really simple to say that one partner is entitled if he/she chooses, to stray from this long journey, take a diversion, as long as he/she finds the way back to the other original partner? Is it then OK for the original partner to really grudge this diversion? Or should we simply accept that each of our journeys through life is unique and essentially a lonely one, and we should be thankful that, for the greater part, we have a companion and for the rest - well one could accept or turn a blind eye.