‘voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse.’
Dictionary definition supplied for the sake of clarity.
Let me start by confessing that, like some others who will read this, I have, in the past committed adultery. That is to say, some three decades ago, I had an affair with a married man. It ended in tears, of course. We delude ourselves if we genuinely anticipate any other outcome.
The bit I would like to flag up to start with is this: ‘…voluntary sexual intercourse…’ That’s what adultery is: It is the sex act; it is getting your end away with someone else’s man or woman. It may well have nothing to do with love – and everything to do with a bored married man (or woman) who wants variety, or a bitter one who wants revenge. It rarely means that your lover will leave his wife, or her husband, and go gallivanting off into an idyllic sunset with you.
Get real. What the lover is doing with you, he or she will, eventually, do to you. The unhappiness of a fractured family, distraught children and an angry ex-spouse stirring the cauldron in the background does not make for new marital bliss. It makes for edgy and uncomfortable communication. It makes for seething resentment and competition. It makes for children being used as pawns in a unspoken, and nasty, game of chess. It gives vulnerable children a code of behaviour which can, tragically, remain with them for life.
It is sad that I valued myself so little in my early twenties: That I really thought that someone else’s husband was for me to take, and all I was worth. I did not, in any true sense, take him, of course. Mistresses rarely do, do they? Oh, they think they have the upper hand because they are younger and willing to do all the things in bed that the wife has, understandably, refused to countenance. But what young lovers fail to see is the real dynamic between even the most dysfunctional married couple – and, to put it bluntly, the fact that the wife is often, actually, much better for the unfaithful man than any number of nubile and eager-to-please lovers.
I do not know what possessed me. Sexual curiosity maybe. Vast inexperience. A huge crush. Being on the rebound from my first ever relationship. All and none of the above – because, ultimately, there was no excuse for my behaviour. I knew it – and I suffered for it.
But it taught me a valuable, if excruciating, lesson: The distinction between mine and yours in that most intimate sense – and that, no matter how much you like someone, there are areas in which you cannot, or should not, intrude. But, most importantly, I learned, in the end, that I am worth far more than a quick fuck – and that glamorising adultery by claiming it is love is destructive and fatal. To put it in its rawest state, if you are bonking someone else’s spouse, it is all about sex; it is an affair; it is not a loving commitment or a real, multi-hued, relationship.
If you don’t believe me, try giving up the sexual element – and see what happens! Marching Orders pretty quickly. New mistress acquired within an insultingly short space of time – maybe even before you have buggered off.
I have always befriended, and got on very well with, men. Some of my best friends are male – and this has been the case ever since I was four and met Bruce (who, bless him, left for a new life in Australia: honestly, the things some people will do to get away from me!). I have some really lovely friendships with blokes, and value them enormously. We talk, gossip, laugh, trade banter, support one another and are best friends in the nicest sense.
But there is a clear line in the sand for me – a gulf, if you like, which stops me from leaping from friendship into adultery. I am, at present, still married – and therefore any relationship which involves sex is taboo.
I know there are people in this world who do not see any barrier to sex the way I do: If they want someone, they go all out to get that person between the sheets in the shortest possible time. And, yes, I will admit that there are times when I wish I were like that; when I wish I were not burdened with a conscience and a consciousness of the damage affairs can cause to the whole family unit; when I wish I could be amoral and ignore the fall-out, just get what I want.
In fiction, the girl gets the boy, the boy gets the girl – and, somehow, others, be they wives, or husbands, or children, are magically swept under the carpet, disposed of in some neat way. But real life ain’t like that. In real life, real people get hurt, even destroyed, by acts of adultery: By those who think, as I did so long ago, that their sexual needs are more important than the lives of those they interfere with and, all too often, break apart.
I am not going down the adultery route again. As I have said, I am worth far more than that!
And, actually, Platonic relationships can be absolutely wonderful: The lack of sex can free up the energy and create very different, but equally fulfilling, ways of being intimate – ways which have to do with the mind, the emotions, with shared interests. Without that sexual tension, new ways of communicating, of expressing warmth and care can be found – and, if one is lucky, the door opens to relating at a much higher, more spiritual, level.
Perhaps one day, these higher level relationships will become common – and men and women will choose to engage sexually out of genuine love and connection, rather than through the hurricane of lust, or because they want to prove a point or get one over on a previous lover.
Perhaps one day, there will be no need in our world for adultery – and the word, and all its danger and misery, will become redundant.
NB: I am aware that, on rare occasions, extra-marital relationships DO stem from genuine love and commitment, and do work, but they are in the minority.