herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

IS cheatinG good for your marriage?

there are many well-worn excuses for infidelity, but few as likely to cause as much angst among women as that proposed in a new book. jennifer o'connell casts a sceptical eye over a sociologist's theory that not only is it normal for men to cheat, but that they do it out of respect for their wives

When it comes to excuses for infidelity, I bet you thought you'd heard them all. "We were on a break." "I was drunk." "She came on to me." "It's not you, it's me." Well, I've got a new one for you. Listening, boys? "I cheated because I love you so much, honey".

That's right. According to the top sociologist Professor Eric Anderson and the Oxford University Press (that's the same publishing house which brought you such titles as Galileo's Selected Writings, A History of Mathematics and the world's most popular series of dictionaries) men have affairs out of respect for monogamy.

Do try to keep up down the back.

Men, he explains with breathtaking originality, are hard wired to want lots of sex. But after the "third or fourth month" in a relationship, there is a sharp decrease in the frequency and enjoyment of the amount of it they get at home.

Through inventive use of "other locations, new positions and toys", they might be able to pep up their interest in their partner for two more years, even three if they're lucky. But after that, the slide into tawdry infidelity is inevitable. Cheating is their "rational response to the irrational social expectations of monogamy".

It's not their fault, ladies. He wants to be emotionally monogamous, but his "body craves sex with other people somatically". 'Somatically' -- that means it's not his fault.

So how have we been duped for so long into believing that happy relationships don't have to involve trysts with other people in the toilets of Copper Face Jacks?



parents

It's our parents' fault, apparently. As children, Anderson says we learned from them that monogamy is the only socially acceptable way to have a relationship, and that "sex with just one other person is capable of producing a lifetime of highly enjoyable sex".

This is one big, silent conspiracy, he says. But by the time we've grown up, got engaged, taken on the mortgage, married, produced a child or two -- and committed to that lifetime of what we now realise is disappointing sex -- it's too late.

Now, don't get him wrong. Anderson is all for marriage. He's a romantic at heart.

It's the idea that husbands and wives could continue to fancy each other even when they're old and wrinkly that's the "Disney-promulgated fantasy".

"As I show through the work of dozens of scholars, sex with the same person grows boring," he states. At this point, you might want to throw the book across the room. You might find yourself reaching for the Rescue Remedy. Don't worry-- you're merely reacting as one who wants to be associated with the privileged sexual paradigm.

Anderson wants you to know that we -- or rather, they (because his findings are, naturally, limited to men) -- have affairs, because cheating is better than living a lifetime of anger and contempt, and it's definitely better than breaking up.



packing

Instead of packing all his belongings into several large bin liners and putting his beloved Porsche up for sale on eBay, women should be happy when their husband is off having 'hot sex' with a firm-thighed 19-year-old, he insists.

You think they're cheating, but what they're actually doing is working on their relationship with you.

Lest you dismiss this as something he cooked up with his mates down the pub, Anderson explains that his theory is drawn from "empirical research in sociology, psychology, evolutionary psychology, biology, and neuroscience".

And it's also drawn from interviews with 120 undergraduates, 78pc of whom have cheated. Well, you know college boys.

So what do we do? Embrace the open relationship, he says. You know, the model which has worked so well for Hugh Hefner, Charlie Sheen and . . . er, Newt Gingrich.

Be sexually promiscuous, but emotionally monogamous. Embrace ethical sluthood, and your life will be immeasurably enriched.

There's so much that is flawed about this book, it's hard to know where to start.

But let's go back to the beginning of time. If monogamy is merely a social construct -- and a hopelessly ineffective one at that -- then why have humans been pairing off in twos for, according to the best estimates of anthropologists, at least 20,000 years?

Then there's his argument that "almost everybody" cheats. I'd like to see some evidence for this, beyond the boasts of the 120 horny frat boys he interviewed.

If all the men I know are serial cheats, then I clearly haven't been giving them credit for their ability to lie, their powers of organisation or their energy levels.

Finally, there's his promotion of the open relationship as a solution to the crisis in monogamy. You just need to "unlearn" your inclination to be sexually jealous.

He suggests you repeat the following phrase: "I am mellow."

The fact that Anderson is himself a gay man doesn't in any way invalidate his research, of course -- if anything, as he points out, it might even put him in a better position to question the received wisdoms about relationships.



disbelief

But it does make some of his generalisations about straight men's comparative desire for their "wrinkled, saggy wife of 70" versus "a goddess of 16" a little harder to swallow.

He also insists he's not anti-woman. In fact, he -- and here's where he really started to stretch my capacity to suspend disbelief -- describes himself as a "feminist academic".

So listen up, girls: he is doing you a favour. He wants to liberate you from the strictures of monogamy and the view that infidelity is part of the "psychic dysfunction of men".

So the next time you find a suspiciously friendly text message on your partner's phone, or he comes home reeking of another woman's perfume, remember -- he's only doing it because he loves you, and because he believes in emotional monogamy.

Put down the bin liner and repeat after me. I am mellow. I am mellow. I am mellow.

The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating by Eric Anderson published by Oxford University Press is out on March 9, £32.50

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