Adultery and Fantasy
Last year, a prominent website which supposedly facilitated adultery was outed for primarily consisting of robot programs to con men out of significant fees. In fact, the fees were being harvested from men (and ostensibly women) who were yearning for a fantasy. Customers only became upset when it became apparent that a lot of the action was only ever going to happen in their heads. Various news outlets reported there were almost no women even registered with the site (something on the order of 5-10% of the reported numbers were women, and the vast human membership was primarily male). Customers had to pay to view emails, and the promises of more emails and (at least in fantasy) an in-person tryst.
Adultery will happen. Attraction to others does not die with commitment. Our species does not fare well in terms of monogamy. (What do you think Benjamin Franklin meant when he said, “Variety is the spice of life”?). Evolutionary psychology (coming from a hetero-normative perspective) asserts that monogamy is a human-made construct, emanating from the relative investment each gender expends in the process of reproduction. It also indicates certain time frames in which each gender is more likely to stray.
Mature relationships cool down over time and for sexual excitement to lessen, that’s normal. Both natural pleasure hormones lessen and the massive psychological projections characteristic of a new relationship lessen. At one level, this is nobody’s fault; rather it is a natural process. Your partner is not supposed to remain an object of fantasy, whose primary objective is to read your needs and meet them seamlessly (remember how that seemed like a possibility early in the relationship?). Mature relationships need to be maintained. When things go well, massive projections (‘you will make the world perfect’, ‘you will fill in the voids left over from unmet childhood desires and needs’) give way to a more sophisticated appreciation for the other in all her/his complexity; an appreciation for the other as a person, as a three dimensional being. Appreciation of these benefits provides an important counterweight to the pull toward adultery. Infidelity no longer seems like a viable or harmless option.
We need to work on relationships, through ongoing communication and shifting expectations. Almost no one looks as good as they did 10 or 20 years ago. That is no one’s fault. Making the shift to a growing appreciation of emotional intimacy is important, but not always easy. As we discuss in another post, intimacy and being known require the ability to be vulnerable in a way which is often frightening and perhaps overwhelming for many people.
The Human Condition and Some Contributing Factors
As Freud outlined, we are animals, and we are pulled by animal urges. Hormones are neurotransmitters, so they impact how we think and what comes to mind. Remember being 17 years old?
In our culture, we have been fed the story ending with, “and they all lived happily ever after.” How many childhood bedtime stories end with, “well, they married. They thought things were going to be great, and mostly things were good, but Bob never quite measured up to Jane’s expectations and frankly Jane was a bit of a disappointment to Bob as well. They loved each other, but Bob had this hot coworker….” Without extensive market research, it seems the likely answer is none. The point? We have the well-established expectations that once we get married, it’s all supposed to work out when it doesn’t – someone is to blame (and it’s not me!) (or conversely, if our parents and families’ relationships did not work, then we expect our relationships won’t either. In the latter case, the ‘smart money’ is on being guarded. The antithesis of intimacy.).
Our culture has come to equate intimacy with sexual intimacy. As we live our daily lives, it is normal for the intimacy of relationships to ebb and flow. We get busy or drift apart slightly, and then we come back together, more intimately. The value of the relationship is renewed, strengthened and (at least unconsciously) acknowledged. Emotional intimacy requires vulnerability. Obviously, that is hard and for some, seemingly impossible. Sexual intimacy seems to take its place, even fantasized sexual contact takes the place and perhaps fills the gap left in the ebb or the inability to reach out for greater intimacy.
Also, commonly, an immature part of us expects the other to ‘make it all better.” Recall how as a young child we expected a parent or guardian to ‘make it all better?’ If you observe young children, perhaps one falls and scrapes her knee. She might get angry with the person in the mothering position for allowing the pain to continue. We term this personification. In this case, the mother is supposed to make everything better and is the personification of all that is right or wrong. Similarly, a regressive part of ourselves often vilifies our partner for not intuiting our needs, and ‘making it all right.’ The bigger problem here is that we can become resentful for the partner’s supposed short-comings, rather than to explore the (un)reasonableness of our expectations. “Well, screw her, I’m going to look elsewhere to get my needs met. You seem like a nice robot!”
What to do?
Well, first off save your money, fantasies are free. Next, it might make more sense to invest in yourself and the relationship. If things seem to be lacking in the relationship, try talking more; invest in a weekend away or a vacation together – the two of you. Couples therapy is also a great way (ok, it’s scary at first) of dramatically improving the quality of the relationship by exploring the factors touched on above, helping you both to grow and learn to be vulnerable and intimate in each other’s presence – and with each other. It’s guilt-free, you won’t feel foolish for flirting with a robot, your relationship will improve dramatically, and you will never get outed for a fantasied relationship.