‘Adultery can save your marriage’ Say What?

adultery can save your marriage

I came across this story about a dating site being sued in France for targeting married people last week. I know these sites exist but to see the thinking behind the idea written out like that, it is so skewed, it made me a bit depressed about the world, and sad for the people who hold these views.

French stereotypes strike again

There is this idea about French married people, that they all have affairs at some point in their life and no one bats an eyelid. It is a stereotype, it is not true. Sure, French politicians occasionally make the headlines about their seedy extramarital activities, and I get the sense that in some milieux, say the bourgeoisie (probably rich, bored, powerful Parisiens – who’s stereotyping now?), it might be a more acceptable thing, but for the average French person? It is not true or normal or acceptable. The article doesn’t exactly help disabuse of this notion, but I did learn something I quite liked, that ‘fidelity’ is written into French law. After all, marriage is a contract that offers legal protection; the vows aren’t just for show, so doesn’t it make sense that they should have some legal weight?

No Deception

There’s this line in the article that goes:

I chose Gleeden precisely because it is for married people. It means that the person you meet knows your situation. There’s no deception. We can talk openly about husbands, wives and children.

Isn’t there always deception though? Sure, in one sense, there is no deception between the two people having the affair, but there sure is deception if the partner of the married person doesn’t know about it, which I suspect in most cases they don’t. Take politics. France is big on privacy but I have a bigger issue with people who deceive their partner. I disagree with the French privacy laws that say that the private life of politicians is none of the public’s business. I am interested in how politicians behave in private because it tells me about their character. It’s not about knowing the details of their personal lives for kicks; I am, however, interested in whether they respect the people to whom they have made promises and how they show that respect. If you will deceive in your private life, it doesn’t give me much confidence that you will have any qualms about deceiving the public if it would benefit you. After all, actions speak louder than words. I think this applies to most relationships, not just marriage, because we all desire to be loved for who we are, warts and all, and the basis for most relationships is that you will love them and be faithful to them, regardless of whether you have spoken the official vows or not. This is why I’m not surprised that the website user found most men she met on the site to be ‘sub-optimal’.

In most marriages…

“But let us not be hypocritical. It’s not black and white. In most marriages at some point there is infidelity, but that does not mean the marriages collapse. Sometimes the infidelity is what saves the marriage.”

Isn’t it a sad thought? There are people out there, quite a few of them it appears, who live with this worldview that ‘in most marriages at some point there is infidelity’. This makes me sad, because it doesn’t have to be that way. I suspect that these people didn’t think that way on their wedding day (I hope!) but they might have entered the marriage with rose-tinted glasses full of the passion, romance and excitement of First Love, forgetting that all relationships require work at some point to be long-lasting. When a relationship based on First Love faces difficulties, disenchantment and disappointment can soon appear. It is interesting that the website user interviewed said they were unhappy but ‘would not leave their husband’. I couldn’t help my first thought: ‘how selfish’. I don’t know her circumstances and I’m sure nothing about them is simple or easy. After 6 years of marriage, I know well enough that relationships are hard work at times! A truer saying might be that ‘in most marriages at some point there is the temptation of infidelity.’ We all hit rough patches in our relationships. A great many of us choose to remain faithful, because we all have a decision to make about how we treat each other, and in this our character shows its true colours.

But apparently, many people stay in unhappy marriages for various reasons, not least because the alternative is too fearsome to consider, but also for some because despite their unhappiness, they value their comfort more than their husband or wife. When you are unhappy you may try to rationalise your situation, but thinking that an extramarital affair could actually ‘save your marriage’, call me naive but I can’t see how that works. A healthy relationship is based on trust, honesty and communication. An affair doesn’t save a marriage, it replaces the assumption of a healthy foundation with a flimsy partition, and leaves you hoping your partner won’t notice the difference.

I can’t help but think that when someone has reached the point when they will join a dating website in the hope that it will restore happiness in their life and by extension in their marriage, they must have such a bleak outlook on life. What do you think?

Grappling with Charlie

Grappling with Charlie blog header 160115

I’ve sat on the news of the horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo for the last week, unable to untangle a multitude of conflicting thoughts and feelings. That anyone can commit this sort of violence unflinchingly is not something you can easily get your head around, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can excuse such a barbaric act.

I knew I should say something, as a French national and as an expat but I’ve struggled to know how to express myself with honesty. However, I think it needs to be done, and so here is my attempt.

As the events unfolded, I initially felt quite remote from them, and that in itself was a strange experience. It could have been going on in the US or Japan or elsewhere in Europe, for all the emotion I felt, that is, not very much at all. Horror yes, and sadness, and ‘I can’t believe this is happening’, but I wasn’t more shocked or horrified than I would be about any other terrible world event. I felt numb. I didn’t expect it, and honestly, I still don’t know what to make of it. I guess it marks a turn in my sense of belonging maybe, the fact that I can see things happen in France and no longer identify enough that it is happening to ‘my people’. So there was that.

The supermarket attacks affected me a lot more. I was reminded of the 2005 attacks on the London Underground. At the time I was commuting into London every day, so I knew, like everyone else, that there was a risk attached, but what could we do? We still had to go to work. There was some anxiety of course, but then everything was so normal so people just got on with it, with life as usual. The situation in France has been quite different. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live in Paris during those three days of terror. Nowhere was safe; the attacks weren’t attached to any specific location or job type or people group; there was senseless killing of civilians just because, in as pedestrian and commonplace a location as a supermarket. It’s a wonder anyone ventured out of their homes, and that got to me more than anything else.

#JesuisCharlie?

It wasn’t long after #jesuisCharlie went viral that criticism of the paper and the hashtag appeared on the web. I thought it was too soon to take jabs at either regardless of whether any of the assertions were correct, with the situation barely settled and people’s emotions still so heightened. It was uncomfortable to find things to agree with; I should not have to consider these issues yet, was my thought.

My gut reaction, when #jesuisCharlie first appeared on my Tumblr page, was to reblog it immediately, which I did. Because no one should die for expressing an opinion, however offensive it may be. Ever. And so, #jesuischarlie, in support of the victims and their right to express their opinion free from the fear of reprisal.

This aside, my discomfort is real. Let me be clear, I do not condone what happened at all. I do not excuse it either. Let’s have none of that ‘they had it coming, they knew fanatics were on to them’. But what are we to make of the content of the Charlie Hebdo (CH) magazine? I was already aware of them, hence my discomfort. Their purpose, as a publication, is to criticise the powers-that-be through satire, and often through offense. Yet as we know, to get on with your fellow-man in the reality of daily life, you don’t go out of your way to cause offense. There is a fine line between your right to express your opinion free from retribution, and the natural consequence that you will end up being part of a small world indeed, with no friends aside from those who agree with you. In the real world, deliberately causing offense just because you can is not ok. With regards to the content of CH, people have accused the magazine of hitting ‘downward’ with their satire, and their supporters have argued that on the contrary, CH’s main nemesis was the far-right political party Front National and all that they stand for. True as it may be, it’s not immediately obvious in many of their work. It is my impression that in the process of pointing the finger at a religion, policy or government figure (and everyone was fair-game), there was a lot of collateral damage. It certainly looks like the magazine often portrayed the victims derogatorily to make the joke stick, and that seems rather wrong to me.

Criticism of Charlie Hebdo as a paper is not the same as supporting terror acts but in the wake of the attack, lines get blurred, accusations get thrown around, and I was so uncomfortable even just thinking about this, let alone expressing it. Is it still too soon? I don’t know. The CH cartoonists and their colleagues didn’t deserve what happened to them. Fanatics will jump at any excuse to commit the violence that boils within them, and they were sadly provided with one. I suspect someone else would have been the target if not CH, it was only a matter of time.

What disturbs me in the worldwide endorsement of #jesuischarlie is not that it shows support for free speech and for the victims and their families. And it sure expressed a willingness to stand united in the face of terrorism. I applaud that. But I am skeptical that aside from the big gesture, it will mark a change in people’s every day life. I am skeptical that a similar sentiment would have risen if the victims of the terrorist attack had been Westboro Baptist Church or UKIP. I don’t think we would have seen #IamUKIP or #Iam Westboro trend on Twitter. I doubt people would have taken to the streets in support of the victims. Maybe I am too cynical.

There is a history of casual racism alive and well in France that will not be easily shifted with unity marches. Franglaise Mummy wrote a post on what it feels like to live in France at the moment, which I would encourage you to read. The people at the other end of it are mostly Muslims and poor people of colour who live in the French HLM ghettos. The way people talk about them is similar to the way people in England view the travellers’ community. You don’t have to be a Daily Mail reader to have a negative opinion of them, you’re vaguely ashamed of it but it’s there and it is a common view.

My personal experience, which I now feel I will have to speak about in my next post to highlight the point, is that unless people take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for giving dignity, respect, friendship and love to the marginalized that cross their lives, or get out of their way to do so by doing practical things to help them feel more integrated and supported, talk of unity is, if not empty, certainly anemic. Lasting change has to be personal. We cannot and should not wait for the government to initiate the change. If we are in earnest about wanting to stand united, we need to be willing to take a risk and engage with the differences we so wish to protect at a personal level.

I don’t know that this post does the topic justice at all. France is in a complex situation and it is a clumsy attempt in the circumstances to try to make sense of it, especially when my own thoughts and emotions are in a state of flux on the matter. I hope it is clear that I don’t mean to offend the memory of the victims and the genuine horror of the situation by voicing some criticism.

Work adverse French are working too hard

hard at work

Health warning needed: French person super hard at work

Did you hear about that article in the Guardian about the French government passing a law that means workers are not allowed to do any work after 6 pm? Except it’s not really true and workers will most likely continue to do their job much as they did before. And in a what is the world coming to moment, Buzzfeed of all places clarified what the Guardian failed to convey correctly.

The idea is that employers will be required to make sure staff disconnect from their smartphones and computers outside of working hours so that they don’t spend their entire evenings replying to work emails and answering requests from their bosses. It sounds pretty good to me in theory, although it does raise a couple of questions.

For the one thing, it seems to imply that French workers do too much work. The earth laughs in their face, because everybody knows about the lazy-arse French and their 35-hour weeks. But that’s just a bad stereotype, bad bad bad. True in some places of course, but not overall. What it does say however, which is unfortunately not remotely a stereotype, is that the French are really out of touch with the rest of the world, or completely brainwashed or both, and that bringing a thing like this in the middle of a recession, just, what are you doing? The French government is SO good at the whole ostrich head in the sand thing and has form for focusing on tangential things instead of dealing with more pressing problems, like I don’t know, the fact that France’s economic recovery is deathly slow. I know this deal is a drop in the ocean of crapness that is the current economic crisis but please look outside your frontiers with something other than dismissiveness and get some awareness!

Secondly, this agreement seems quite impossible to regulate. Wouldn’t the right thing to do is to make the employers responsible for themselves to not send work emails after 6 pm? There is such a thing as a ‘delay delivery’ button in Outlook. Also some people actually like to work a lot; even the French, and do we really want to stop them?

Ultimately, it’s as much about self-regulation than it is about expectations. If you’re in a high-powered job, you work outside of office hours and get paid accordingly. If you want to, you can even turn off your phone and your work laptop, and you don’t need a legal agreement to do so.

In any case, I doubt anything will change in practice. What do you think?