Part III in the Shifting Paradigm Series: “I just wish he would have an affair!”
This was the title of a recent post by Monique Honaman, on her blog at the Huffington Post. She is the author of THE HIGH ROAD HAS LESS TRAFFIC, a road map for marriage, divorce and coping. She began her post with this quote:
“My husband is so nice. He’s a good guy. I just wish he would have an affair.”
Ms. Honaman goes on to comment, “I’ve heard these comments or comments very similar to this, numerous times, lately. What’s going on? I’m not sure I have an answer. In fact, I’m sure I don’t have an answer.”
Her perplexity is understandable, on the surface of things. The admission with which her post leads off seems out of character with women as we’re accustomed to thinking of them. It’s even more difficult to account for, when Ms. Honaman includes the amplifying comments. Women making these statements, she observes, admit there’s nothing “wrong” with him and they (the women making these confessions) feel considerable guilt as a result. That guilt is crystallized in the question, “What gives me the right to leave my husband when he has done nothing wrong?”
Why might she want her husband to have an affair?
SO what is at the root of these startling confessions and why might women be making them to Honaman, who hears from a number of women who have found inspiration from her book? Honaman’s readers have opinions, predictably. An incomplete list of representative comments included below.
- They (the women who say this) want an excuse to leave “him.” (The pretext seeker)
- She is just being self-indulgent. She has it too easy. (Quit Whining)
- She wants out but she doesn’t want it to be her “fault.” (See #1, above)
- Relationships are work. Do they work! (See #2, above)
- Wen you’re on your lats breath and dying, who will be there? (See # 2 & 4, above)
- In our disposable society, is it any wonder that marriage has followed suit? (we’re going to the dogs)
- She wants “him” to have an affair so she can. (see #6, above)
While these comments may touch on part of the truth, part of the time, they miss something much more fundamental, in my view. Humans, even in simpler times have always been complex critters, even if their needs and desires at times seem straightforward. What seems to be missing in all of these answers is an awareness (or at least acknowledgement) of the implicit footnotes to marriage. The hidden paradigm.
The Insidious Relationship Paradigm…
Let’s begin by agreeing the paradigm for marriage as most of us have tend to accept it goes something like this:
- Marriage is the only truly valid form of relationship (of the romantic variety, anyway)
- Marriage is (or should be) “til death do us part.”
- Monogamous, heterosexual marriage is the only responsible framework for procreation.
But there is (at least) one other assumption underpinning the marriage paradigm as we know it. The traditional marriage paradigm assumes our marriage will not outlive our love; a heroic assumption, especially given 21st Century realities. Marriage has its roots in a much earlier time; a time when life expectancy was much shorter and the rate of change our ancestors endured was orders of magnitude less frantic than it is today. Consider how the following might affect our marriage paradigm how the realities of our changing time may be modifying it.
- As late as 1850, the life expectancy of a white male in America was on average 38.3 years; white females 40.5 years. For all others it was significantly less. In other words, a successful marriage on average spanned a generation. Mortality rates in ancient times are much harder to estimate, but seem to have been about the same. Today, an average white male is expected to survive into his 70s. That’s a longer time for two people to remain on congruent growth paths; especially if women and men are both employed and subjected to different thoughts and experiences.
- Technology’s capacity to transform how we live (& the pace of that life) have grown faster than some of us are capable of assimilating. (Alvin and Heidi Toffler called it Future Shock in their 1970 best seller). How those stress components affect us over time depends on a lot of independent variables, many of which we probably haven’t even identified, yet, but few would be silly enough to call trivial.
- The entry of women into the work place as professionals in their own right has rendered men optional, as a practical matter, rather than a necessity. Women can (and do all the time) make their own way, even as single parents. It may not be optimal, even today, but it happens with increasing frequency. As of 2008, of the 4 million women 15-44 who had given birth in the last year, 1.5 million (38%) were either not married, separated or married with an absent spouse.
in light of the foregoing, it is difficult to imagine our attitudes about marriage would not change. The single greatest effect of the Womens’ Rights Movement is found in how women view themselves. And because women, much more than men have been traditionally defined by their relationships, an significant change in how they view themselves is virtually certain to show up in how they view their relationships. Other than the relationships of mothers with their children, it is hard to imagine any more profound than that with their men, if heterosexual.
The peppery comments about self-indulgence, or relationships requiring work may well be applicable in some cases, but completely inappropriate in others. The truth is, we have a society whose paradigm pushes marriage. It isn’t even subtle. Consciously or unconsciously, we conclude there is something “wrong” with someone who isn’t married. Men opt out of marriage but still enjoy the company of women we label “commitment phobics,” or even “arrested adolescents.” Women who opt for lifestyles in any other form than wife and mother are selfish or worse.
Time for a new paradigm?
But what if we’re operating from the wrong paradigm? What if it’s marriage as we have traditionally defined it that is
flawed? If women (for example) feel trapped in a relationship they can’t make work for whatever reason and cannot bring themselves to end because someone must be wrong before the marriage itself is…should we be surprised women might hope for a way out that preserves their self-image? Is there a better example of cognizant dissonance?
Do I know if any of these possibilities apply in the cases to which Ms. Honaman refers in her post? No. But neither can I look at the world in which we live without asking the obvious. Does not our consumptive society rest on the inefficient model of mom, dad and 2.4 children precisely because it is inefficient and promotes consumption? Does the nuclear family as we know it not persist because it’s good business in the industrial and post industrial world…just like the myth of unlimited, sustainable growth?
In my next post on the evolution of relationships between men and women, we will take a closer look at how the paradigm upon which marriage as we know it may be directly impacting our ecosystem; along the economic model that assumes perpetual growth. We will consider some of the practical outcomes of these essentially philosophical questions and speculate how they might affect the existing paradigm as their impacts become more obvious. However we define (or redefine) relations between men and women, it is difficult to see them remaining static. But in answer to Ms. Honaman’s question, “What is going on?” The marriage paradigm is shifting…or so it seems to me. What does everyone else think?