When you read the title of this post, what sprang to your mind? Sexual infidelity, right? Well, let me spring another one on you then: I don’t give a damn about sexual infidelity and here’s why...there is just too much hype about it, in every society including of course our very own Indian one.
Don’t get me wrong; if a someone is cheating on his/ her partner, then addressing the “act” and getting all hyper about it does not serve any purpose. It is like focusing on the symptom of a disease instead of carrying out a root-cause analysis. In my view, many other categories of infidelity creep into a relationship before the actual sexual infidelity creeps in.
One of these infidelities can be in the form of emotional infidelity or emotional disconnect. Marriage is a package deal. With this package very often it so happens that a chasm develops due to inadequate communication between partners and it deepens over time due to the multifarious aspects that can be mind-boggling for either one or both of the partners. There’s the whole stress of sharing a space with another person, duties and responsibilities that emerge, unwritten norms that you are supposed to adhere to, etc.
For example, anyone who has ever been to a public gathering of Indians, be it at a wedding or a religious ceremony, men and women are supposed to hang around in separate clusters. In such a scenario, if a young man or woman seeks physical proximity with his / her partner, the “uncles” and “aunts” of society are quick to condemn them as shameless! I am not advocating PDA, just saying that any extremes of behaviour are equally questionable. If a couple wants to hold hands, why do we not just let them? Is it any wonder then, in the long run they are found holding another’s hand clandestinely?
Since our society is so accustomed to overlooking anything that is non-manifested in the physical form, these disconnects are frequently over-looked. That almost everybody will admit to have had sexual fantasies about someone other than the partner is not made an issue of. That two people in a relationship need space away from all others (family members, children) is, even now, not an easily accepted concept. Even marriage counselling, so prevalent in the West, is extremely slow in catching on in India. Society thinks it is a luxury for the rich and not a necessity for the middle class.
Another kind of infidelity is financial infidelity. Money is not a subject that we Indians still have a lot of clarity about. Investment decisions may be made without the active participation of either of the partners. Who knows, perhaps the seeds of sexual infidelity get sown at such moments? Most often, all money matters are pre-supposed to be in the male domain. Among many couples, the female has no clue about how much the male earns while he knows her pay-package like the back of his hand and even takes it upon himself to decide how it is to be spent. The reverse could also be true, if as a child, the girl has never seen her mother earning any money and she as a career-woman starts earning quite a bit, the new and exhilarating sense of emancipation can also sometimes drive her into the arms of a lover who, in her mind, symbolises her new-found freedom from the shackles that generations of women before her have had to bear.
India is a bundle of contradictions. The land that upholds family values and traditions has at the same time been the seat of literature like the Kamasutra, a text that exalts sex without any clearly defined boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not. It boasts of the highest number of arranged marriages, but shies away from statistics about the growing percentage of partners cheating on each other (apparently males 70%, and females 30%, but we all know that statistics lie). But one thing is for sure, it is much more tolerant than Islamic countries like Indonesia where erring men, more so women, are apparently lapidated in public. Imagine the disproportion of the punishment to the ‘crime’ committed! So many other acts of rampant cruelty, marital rape for example, go unreported, unheard, un-punished and we make a big hue and cry about sexual infidelity which at times is the outcome of a problematic marriage characterised by boredom, incompatibility, conflicts and sometimes has nothing to do with the quality of marriage, but with the spouse’s personality which is not a big highlight point especially in an arranged marriage where the focus is on money and family prestige.
Interestingly, across cultures, there are different terms applied to describe the same thing: In Nigeria- ‘sexual networking’, in Finland- ‘parallel relationships’, in France- (this one is hilarious) an expression perhaps better suited for an accounting course: "simultaneous multi-partnerships." Maybe we should learn from the French to be more tolerant of infidelity especially since there are other deeper issues that deserve more of our attention. Surprisingly, in France, where almost 100% of Presidents have had extra-marital affairs, among the ordinary folks only 3.8% of married men and 2% of married women say that they have had multiple sex partners. Having said that statistics lie, could I also say that it might just be possible that the low rates are due to the fact that they don’t make a big deal about it? Point to ponder, at least, don’t you think?
On that note, I leave you.
(Perhaps now you would like to hoist me on a pyre and burn me alive like they burnt Jeanne d’Arc for advocating heresy!)