‘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?


Kissing Tradition Goodbye

Someone asked me the other day if I missed the French tradition of kissing people on the cheek, ‘faire la bise’ in the local linguo, when I greet them. It took only a few seconds to think about it before I responded no. 

I have a confession to make. When I left France all these years ago, I had a not-quite-subconscious feeling of relief at the thought that I’d never have to kiss people ever again unless I actually wanted to. There you go, I said it, and I’m sure that with this statement I have managed to offend the three-quarters of the French population, who will now ask: ‘are you even French anymore?’

This ‘kissing people on the cheek’ palaver is after all a French tradition whose origin is lost in times immemorial. It is the cultural backbone of the country. To people abroad, it is what we do, although it isn’t just the French who do it, but also the Swiss, the Belgians, the Quebecois and even the Serbs; but alright, it is most associated with my countrymen, and with reason. You can’t go anywhere in the country without being confronted left, right and centre with people kissing each other on the cheek. And even the men kiss each other! Well, not that much actually, they tend to prefer the manlier handshake, but it does happen, certainly more than it does in England. And in the UK, public opinion on cheek kissing broadly diverges into two groups: the ‘eww gross’ side, and the ‘isn’t it nice that people are so much more comfortable displaying affection’ side. But in France, it is a way of life.

To the unlearned it is a misleadingly simple process. Grab the person by the shoulders and kiss the cheek nearest to your face at the time and it’s done.  Unfortunately it is not that simple. You need only do a simple search on Google to discover that you are standing at the tip of a very very large iceberg. There are forums and blogs on the internet on when to do it, who to do it to, how to do it right, the list goes on. As one such concerned individual put it in a forum,  “I’ve noticed some people manage to kiss each other without making a smacking noise but I’ve never been very good at this, what’s your advice for doing it without pulling a face?”. My favourite question however, is ‘how many kisses?’

To give a few examples, in most of France, the practice is to give 2 kisses, starting with the right cheek. But in the east and in Provence, the practice is to give 2 kisses, generally starting with the left cheek.  Then there’s Brest in Brittany, when it’s only one kiss; in the Massif Central, in the Drome, Gard and Hautes-Alpes, 3 kisses. And in Paris and the Loire Valley, it can be 2 or 4 kisses, generally starting from the right cheek. And this is just an overview. Who knows how the Serbs do it?

There is such a thing as kissing politics. On the playground, in the office, even at home, it is a social land mine, a potent force of nature capable of creating and breaking friendships in one minute flat. I’m trying to come up with an equivalent in the UK, and can’t think of anything with as much incendiary potential. Having been on the receiving end of the playground version, I know it gets tedious after a while. Imagine you are standing around with your friends at the start of school and a schoolmate joins your group, goes round everyone for the daily morning kisses, and makes a point of bypassing you altogether. Here’s to making your feelings known publicly without so much as a word said. OK, so maybe this is part of the reason why I’m not so keen on the practice anymore!

But it’s not all bad to live in a culture where it’s normal to kiss people on the cheek. It is friendly. You get to be in close contact with (good-looking) people you would otherwise never get anywhere near.  Often it is actually a blessing to have something to do when you meet people. When in doubt, say hello with a kiss! Better that than the uncomfortable shuffling that I occasionally do in the UK whilst I rack my brain wondering if my interlocutor will recoil if I awkwardly hand-wave / hug / shake hands with / bow / run away from them.

Still, I am quietly confident that I am not the only know who thinks it’s a bit weird to have to kiss total strangers at parties just because they’re there or risk appearing stand-offish.