*By Raksha Bharadia
"You can't be wise and in love at the same time." Bob Dylan
Remember Raj Kapoor's dialogue, "Pyaar main bada se bada aadmi bhi bachcha ban jata hai ji?" And then we have the phrase, "blind love." And we know that Kalidasa climbed a snake, thinking it to be a rope, trying to get to his beloved! It is no secret that love, however charming and intoxicating, makes us stupid, irrational and unwise. When gripped in its claws, we throw caution (read common sense) to the wind and do not care about the repercussions—nothing and no one is more important than the beloved! On the other end of the spectrum, love, when unrequited, can turn us into depressed suicidal maniacs, or conversely into raging lunatics angry at the entire world. More often than not, it is still another love that comes as a saviour following one that has gone sour. Love, alone, can bring meaning and worthiness to our lives and physically fill our days and nights with companionship and comfort.
We are often thrilled to find that in an affair we show up as very different from the person we are in the marriage. We are funnier, sexier, smarter...
Now imagine what can happen when this essential business of trust, taken care of with utmost diligence, stamped and sealed, develops perforations. Then the vacuum tight pact starts leaking... What can be worse than knowing that the flesh and blood pivot on which our life hinges finds comfort in the arms of another? The word that rings loud, dissolving all else, is betrayal! We lose our mind! If a legitimate love can make us irrational, stupid and unwise, can you imagine what betrayal of that love in the favour of another can do to us? Especially when so much depends on that love: our sense of self, children, family, home, work. We are supposed to lose our mind and our bearings. We rage at being lied to, feel powerless and thus frustrated and vengeful, hurt at the humiliation, we wallow in self pity at being grossly wronged, and sear with the emotional pain and uncertainty of a suspicion-scarred future—for how can we ever again trust a partner who has committed such a fundamental betrayal?
The first question we ask when we learn of our partner's affair is "why?" And we conclude that something must be grossly wrong. Either with:-
The spouse: That he or she is a whore. That s/he does not love anymore, i.e. if s/he ever did in the first place. That s/he is not what you thought s/he was, everything till then was a big lie. There can be no future with such a wo/man again—for once a cheater, always a cheater. And the transgression becomes bigger than any shared past, even when of decades!
The patriarchal assumption is that when a man screws around it must be because the wife is deficient; feminist theories assure that if a man is fooling around he is an asshole. Many a times the cheating partners consciously/subconsciously blame their spouses for creating a situation that "made them" vulnerable to the affair. The most common reason cited by men is their partner's disinterest in sex; for women, it's men's emotionally unavailability.
With you: That you are somehow falling short, not deserving his or her exclusive love. That, what your partner looked for outside was something that you lacked.
Even when we may not agree openly with our cheating partners, on some deep level we will blame their defection to our failings. The instinct to believe the information about ourselves reflected in our partners' thoughts of us run through our deeper consciousness. These hidden subliminal forces explain why otherwise successful and powerful people are just as vulnerable in their love relationships. According to Cross & Madson, 1997; Martin & Ruble, 1997:
"This tendency also seems related to the fact that the self-concept of women is, much more than that of men, denned in terms of their relationships with others, and that women feel inadequate when their rival is perceived to surpass them."
Also the stronger tendency of women to engage in self-blame when confronted with a spouse's adultery may also stem from women being in a more dependent position than men (cf. Wood & Eagly, 2000).
You are seen as interesting and as sexually attractive. You do not have to beg for sex or dole it out as alms.
In a long-term relationship, we become frozen in our role, caught in a repetitive loop. Everything seems boringly predictable. An affair offers a clean slate and a refreshing unpredictability, a newness. When we get into them, we are often pleased, surprised, relieved or thrilled to find that in this affair we show up as very different from the person we are in the marriage. We are funnier, sexier, smarter, more compassionate, wiser, kinder, more wonderful, fulfilling and pleasing to ourselves! After all it is for an hour or two, sometimes a stray weekend here and there. It is easy to maintain illusions, even of oneself. Romance is a breeze when carried out in secret, fleeting meetings with little time for real life to intrude. And it is a space where we have not even shared the full real "I." You have put your best foot forward and so has the other. It is stage one of romance and it is nothing short of perfect! It's a new you wrapped in desiring and being desired, attracted and being attractive. You are treated as special. You are heard, understood, appreciated and wanted. It is a confidence builder. You feel validated in a different sense. You are seen as interesting and as sexually attractive. You do not have to beg for sex or dole it out as alms. In this secret world, you are perfect, the lover is perfect and the world is perfect! What a capsule of goodies! Your own secret perfect world. A world that does not involve responsibilities, expectations, EMIs, bills, children, housekeeping or rules. The high art of philandering is finding ways to steal perfect little moments. You know that what you're doing is wrong, but it feels so right. It's your secret, and it's exciting.
To be in a relationship where you are desired and valued for yourself, can be addictively delicious! According to researchers, secrecy in relationships actually fans the fires of passion. Wegner, Lane and Dimitri (1994) proposed that romantic secrecy increases the allure of romantic relationships. The brain actually forces us to think most about the things we try to forget. We think obsessively about relationships conducted on the sly.
In the face of tragedy, illness or loss, affairs can provide a shot of adrenaline that helps recapture one's lost vitality.
In this world of cyber affairs that we live in, it is far easier to carve out this secret perfect world. The two augment each other—the need for fantasy and the virtual world. With thousands wanting and waiting a click short on their desks, whether at home or work, whether travelling or waiting at the lounges, salons or even the clinic. The laying down of the bedding can be sinfully effortless.
Affairs fill the craving for drama, risk and excitement. And it is a rebellion, against a system. It is, after all, eating the forbidden fruit!
Affairs fulfill your curiosity. To see the "how?" How would sex be with another? How would your body respond? Does the libido go up? Does your body find him wanting?
You are never lonely. Formulating texts, receiving them, checking mails, phone calls, planning a rendezvous, thinking about the rendezvous, preparing for it. And when nothing else you are daydreaming about the beloved. You are really never lonely!
And then it is about communication. You have someone willing to share the minutiae of your life, your otherwise humdrum existence.
And then it can be about the delightful knowledge that you still have the capacity to seduce.
In the face of tragedy, illness or loss, affairs can provide a shot of adrenaline that helps recapture one's lost vitality. Ultimately, it is not the sex that glues the adulterous relationship together but the talking about sex and the power these stories have to transform our idea of ourselves.
*Raksha Bharadia is a writer and editor. She has authored three books published by Rupa & Co. She has put together 13 titles in the Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul series for Westland. She has also worked as a scriptwriter with Star Plus. She has been a columnist for Femina, Ahmedabad Mirror, and DNA, Ahmedabad. Raksha has taught creative writing for a Master's Program at CEPT, Ahmedabad. Bonobology.com is Raksha's first significant foray in the digital space.
This article first appeared on Bonobology.com.