Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Affairs of Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

Let me just preface this by saying that my views on love are very different from most people's. I'm not suggesting that my opinions are correct and that everyone should think like me. I understand that love is a very personal subject, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, whatever that may be. There is no right and wrong on love, just different perceptions of it. Again, I'm not judging, just thinking.

This is the third installment of an exploration on love in the world of today. The first part can be found here, and part 2 is here.

Ah, "affair". A word with many connotations, good and bad. Whether it's used to refer to a flashy political or social event or a secret proscribed relationship, it has a sort of sexy, risqué flair to it.

Wikipedia lists several different types of relationship-related affairs, from forms of non-monogamy, to infidelity and adultery to emotional affairs.

As per most sources, "affairs" take place when one or both of the partners in a relationship are dissatisfied with their current situation. This dissatisfaction might come from falling out of love with your partner, from personal growth in separate directions, or a life change that has impacted the relationship in such a way that it is different from what it was before. In this case, honesty is primordial.

In order for the relationship to overcome a life change, you must be honest with your significant other, plainly laying out your feelings and impressions. And, not to be harsh, but if you're in a committed relationship, be it open or closed, you shouldn't have issues with being honest with your partner. You may perhaps be afraid of hurting them, but be warned that dishonesty leads to a lack of trust, and is the first crumbling freckle of sand in the castle you've built together. In the long run, it's always better to be honest now and cause only some pain rather than letting the betrayal drag on and causing increasingly more pain.

Fundamentally, an affair is betrayal of trust. But the current definitions of affair assume that love exists in fixed quantities, not that it's an energy, a life force. In adultery, the betrayal is the act of having intercourse with someone other than your partner. This assumes that sex is a higher, more important act than, say, playing a game of Scrabble together. In a purer sense, playing a game of Scrabble with someone else than your partner could be a form of adultery... if those are the boundaries you've agreed upon with your partner. But in most cases, couples base their definitions of affairs on the what society has dictated as being right and wrong. In this case, we're talking about sex.

Of course, adultery can be caused by more than just the act of intercourse. In most cases, it is understood to include other sexual acts, such as oral and anal sex. In some cases, one or both members of a relationship can believe it to include mutual masturbation, virtual sex (cyber or phone), masturbating or performing other sexual acts while thinking of someone other than your partner (unless that's the game, of course), and even flirting. As you can see, the list can go on and on. It's important to discuss, with your partner, what constitutes an affair.

Some couples have been known to have provisions such as celebrity lists, aka, if one of the members of the relationship were to be propositioned or have a chance of engaging in sexual activity with someone on the list, it would be okay. It would be temporarily acceptable for that person to engage in otherwise adulterous behaviour. If that's the case, that act of infidelity would not be considered an affair.

In other cases, certain people have trouble even "allowing", for lack of a better word, their partners to engage in platonic relationships with members of the opposite sex. The extra person tends to be attractive and so the partner might feel threatened by his or her presence in the life of their significant other. Sometimes, the woman feels that her partner might be tempted to be unfaithful, or worse, corrupted by this other woman. Sometimes, it is a man who feels insecure and unable to keep his female partner from resisting the temptation of being with another man, or worse, they think that the other man will steal her away from him.

This does happen in real life and I'm sure we can all think of at least one example of a similar situation.

It all sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn't it? Childish, even. But the feeling of threat is real and is powerful. It incites jealousy and initiates control. Slowly, these feelings take over, causing hurt to all parties involved. And yet, it can be traced back to a lack of trust in each other, and a lack of openness. Why not ask your partner how he or she feels about this new "threat"? Even if there is a sexual attraction, there is little cause for concern if both partners are comfortable being honest about their feelings. But from what I can tell, this pure form of honesty doesn't always exist in a relationship of "in love" and even in some relationships of "love".

Still, your partner would not abandon you for another simply because of sexual urges. There is an underlying need that he or she feels could be met in the new relationship. In an honest, trusting relationship, you would have already talked about what's missing, what needs are not being met. Perhaps there are needs that cannot be met in your relationship; a hobby that one partner simply does not enjoy, for example.

The line between friendship and a potentially sexual relationship can be blurred at times by feelings of insecurity. If you become jealous of the amount of time your partner spends with that other as opposed to you and are not upfront about it, the dynamic of your relationship will change, and that will be the cause of the hypothetical break up. If you cannot be honest about your wants and needs, how can you entrust your heart and soul that person? How can you be absolutely certain that they will care for you the way you do for them, when you can't even explain to them what kind of caring you want and need?

This consequences of this lacking can flow in two directions. On the one hand, a partner can become over controlling, limiting the time spent with others, whether of the same or opposite sex. This is obviously not a healthy relationship. And yet, so many of the couples around us live in a similar kind of confinement, feeling uneasy being friends or simply hanging out with someone because their partner "won't like it", or "might find out and get angry", "disapproves of me spending (so much) time with you".

To be blunt, that is so not cool.

It's stifling to the spirit and is clearly not a relationship based on love. It's a relationship based on hurt. Nothing good can come out of it, save for learning an important lesson on life.

On the other hand, the lacking can cause what has become referred to as an "emotional affair".

This is a topic that is close to my heart for several reasons. An avid supporter of open relationships, emotional affairs, to me, don't exist. They are a restrictive term applied to a completely natural process - that of caring for someone you are close to, on a platonic level or on a loving level.

For Wikipedia, an emotional affair is one where there is a certain amount of intimacy, with or without romance and/or sex. Some consider relationships where there is casual sex, aka friends with benefits, to be a type of emotional affair if one or both of the members are involved with someone else. Of course, some would consider that to be more than just an emotional affair.

Most of the time, an emotional affair is a friendship where the subjects are very close, perhaps even intimate in terms of physical comfort - from hugs, to snuggles, to kissing, even. In order to be an emotional affair, though, there must be caring that is different than in a regular relationship. There must be a connection on a higher level. There could even be love, without being in love. Unless it's an emotional affair that is characterized by a racy romance and a whole lot of flirting, perhaps without any true intention of being friends in every day life outside of the flirting, there must, in fact, be love, in one or several of the forms we explored last time.

To me, there is nothing wrong with having an emotional affair. It's a bond that is special, and unique, in the same way that all relationships are unique. Your relationship with your mom, for example, good or bad, is unique, because it is only between the both of you and is not the same as anyone else's relationship with their mom, as well as not the same as your relationship with anyone else. Based on certain definitions, your relationship with a close sibling or your best friend might be considered an emotional affair.

An emotional affair is also not a relationship, close or otherwise, where flirting is a regular part of the conversation. That's just teasing without any intention of following through on the actions. That's harmful to no one, and in fact, makes most people happy - unless it becomes an emotional affair.

Where it gets tricky is when the emotional affair takes away from the connection one shares with his or her significant other. Still, this is simply a perception since, if love is a limitless energy, it cannot be taken away from someone. Time, however, is fixed in the material world, and so an emotional affair can take away from your quality time with your partner.

Again, the only way an emotional affair becomes a problem is if there is a betrayal. If there is deception. Secrecy. If, in other words, there is a lack of honesty between you and your primary partner. If there is a lack of trust in the other to understand and to love and care for you enough to let you explore your feelings - and not necessarily sexual ones - in this so-called emotional affair. If there is a threat caused by a un-discussed and so undisclosed lacking. If jealousy and doubt are seeds sprinkled across your relationship. If insecurity is the reason you long to stay together. If love is not the underlying energy keeping you together.

Emotional affairs are only negative when they're not in the open. Because they prevent at least one of the participating parties from being happy. I believe that an open emotional affair is a positive addition to a relationship, a way for partners to relax, in a sense, from trying to meet a need they either can't or don't want to fulfill (think hobbies, for example), and a way for them to stop aching and feeling undeserving and perhaps even inferior for not being able to provide for their partner in some respects.

To me, a close friendship, whether or not it has sensual dimension, is essential to the success of a relationship. Sometimes, that close friendship happens to be your relationship with your partner. When that's not the case, it should not be referred to as an emotional affair because of the stigma associated to those words. Because of the negative connotations society assigns to it.

And that's why I don't believe in the term "emotional affair". An emotional affair is society's way of stereotyping the roles of men and women and perpetuating the concepts of love that were imposed long ago to help reign in our recklessness and high birth rate. It is society's version of right and wrong, based on ideas that prevent true love from flowing. That tells couples that it's okay not to talk about your wants and needs because society has already decided on them for you. Society makes some open relationships fail due to a difference in perception that was not broached prior to entering the open relationship, or ideas and ideals that may have changed over the course of the relationship, but due to the absence of honesty and trust, were not discussed. Societal norms and rules are also why closed relationships fail, for the same root reason: a lack of communication.

And yet all of this stems from the way sex is perceived, or rather, what society tells us we should think about sex, a subject I will tackle in my next post.

Stay tuned...

Please feel free to leave comments, as long as they promote the exploration of the topic rather than bash my thoughts and opinions. I'm looking for constructive criticism, not hate mail. If you have nothing helpful to say, please don't bother saying it.

4 comments:

Wendy Smith said...

I don't know if you can stomach polemics (some can't; they can get tiresome after awhile) but if you can and you're into this topic as your recent blog posts suggest, you might want to pick up a copy of Laura Kipnis' Against Love. She's deliberately provocative in her extended tract that reads like a Marxist analysis of modern-day monogamy. But it's a lot more than that - - she's a spectacular writer and very funny and sharp, and kinda speaks to what you're talking about here.

Naila J. said...

Thank you!! I'll definitely look it up :)

--=Armegeddon=-- said...

this is uncanny what you wrote, I had this exact same conversation with my Girlfriend so she could understand that while I love quite a few girls in my life, she is the one who I choose to be with, call my girlfriend, have sex with, ect. The other girls I care alot about in some cases but she also knows there is a line that is not to be crossed, generally revolving around sex, and then hiding the fact it happened, lying to her.

It had nothing to do with courage, much of what you said are core values of how I see a relationship and want the person I call my GF to understand about me, in 6 years a LARGE portion of the girls I met could not understand that because they were stuck in "Snow White land" and had a HUGE problem trusting not only me but themselves I find. I've always been secure and confident with what I want in life,never knew where it woud lead me but thats part of the fun in life :)

I also knew that my GF would have to put up with alot of my "crap" and other weirdness that I have no qualms showing off around people. I think that combined with the above paragraph cause alot of the girls to doubt...

it also helps Im dierct and for the most part dont care about what the other person thinks about my opnion, because in the end why should they or I care about anyone's opnion. If I like it I put stock in it, if I dont I laugh at the person! (silently or to their face, whatever one brings me more pleasure!)

*applaud*

Naila J. said...

Thank you for sharing!
It's good to hear that other people think and feel the same way :)