Sunday, February 17, 2013

Emotional Affairs


As though it were not sufficiently humiliating to discover that her husband had been having an “emotional affair” with a woman fifteen years her junior Lucy Hawkins decided to expose it all to the public.

She wrote up the story of her husband’s emotional affair in the Daily Mail. I would like to think that she is writing under a pseudonym, but apparently that is not the case.

Whatever happened to the old advice that you should not wash your dirty linen in public?

Hawkins discovered her husband’s affair by hacking his cell phone. Naturally, we all believe that she had no right to do such a dastardly thing, and she herself has no real explanation for her perfidious act. Still, I suspect that she harbored a suspicion that something was going on.

It is not very easy to hide a major emotional shift from your spouse.

According to Hawkins’ husband, the affair was purely emotional. He and his paramour Lorna did meet in person a couple of times, and, by his account, did not consummate their romance. They conducted the affair via text message.

Reasonably enough, Lucy Hawkins considers the emotional affair a betrayal. For her part Kiri Blakeley suggests, correctly, that it was worse than, say, a hookup.

Blakeley writes:

In fact, I think a lot of women would prefer their husband have a meaningless one night stand rather than a long drawn-out emotional affair, sharing tender words and deepest thoughts.

A hookup might expose a wife to a health risk, but an emotional affair puts her at the far greater risk of losing her husband and her family life.

No man leaves his wife for a hookup or a hooker; a man might well leave his wife if he falls in love with another woman.

Thus, Blakeley is correct to differentiate the risk levels between the two.

How does a man allow himself to get involved in an emotional affair? First, men are naïve. They believe that if they are not engaging in carnal relations with another woman they are being faithful. They consider it an amusing game, something that might have been lacking in their lives.

Thus, a woman might well prey on a man’s naïveté, by pretending that it’s just a lot of good clean fun. After a while, however, the man in question will be thinking about his emotional affair all the time. Her image will overrun and occupy his consciousness. As the woman reveals more and more intimate details—in an emotional strip tease—he will eventually find himself lusting after her in a non-emotional way.

If men are naïve about affairs of the heart, women are not. If Hawkins’ husband did not know what was happening to him, his emotional lover, Lorna, certainly did.

Second, men who did not learn to date before they were married are especially vulnerable. They do not know how to read situations, how to understand the cues and how not to get carried away by an emotion they do not understand.

When married men get involved in emotional affairs they are not merely playing an away game, but they are playing on a field and according to rules that they do not understand. No man is a master of the game of love. A woman might let a man think he is, but he is not.

If the hapless husband did not realize the danger lurking, his wife, Lucy certainly did.

Obviously, Lorna is not just in it for the sex. If she had just wanted sex she would not be involving herself with a married man who lived on another continent. Of course, she was poaching another woman’s husband. If one wants to be judgmental, as I am sure that everyone’s non-judgmental soul wants to be, Lorna deserves most of the blame here.

According to the Daily Mail, more and more married couples are having emotional affairs. They have caused more than their fair share of divorces.  

Naturally, everyone blames it on the internet or Facebook or the iPhone. It is simply the most modern way to shift responsibility away from oneself and one’s culture and on to a gadget.

Try looking at the problem from a different this angle. For those of us who have been wondering what happened to dating and courtship in a hookup-laden world, then perhaps emotional affairs provide an answer.

At a time when young people seem normally to believe that they should be having sex before the third date relationships must be suffering from an absence of romance and perhaps even an absence of desire. If sex is merely a quick hookup, then eventually the desire will drain out of it. Without any anticipation, there will be no desire. If two people get naked before they know each others’ names, they will have erased the mystery. What more do they have to look forward to?

When it comes to the Hawkins husband and Lorna, they had a lot look forward to.

We know that some couples who meet on line lie to each other and misrepresent themselves. In the case of Lucy Hawkins’ husband, the two people did meet in person and did have an initial conversation before developing their emotional affair.

When distance makes sexual congress impossible, couples have the opportunity to get to know each other, to develop their feelings for each other, and to stoke the flames of their desire. They will have the opportunity, increasingly uncommon in our time, to get to establish an emotional connection before they establish a coital linkage.

It appears that men like the Hawkins husband are not starving for sex. And yet, they seem to be starving for romance. If they did not court, did not date, did not develop a romance but got down to business before they knew each other, then perhaps they found it that much more difficult to connect with their wives emotionally. 

Thus, they are perfect and almost-too-easy prey for young women who are looking for husbands.

19 comments:

Lastango said...

I appreciate Stuart's perspective that men who didn't date much might be easy targets for homewreckers because they never learned the game. On the other hand, I expect more backbone from them because they also never learned to play the field or exercise their options.

BTW, I'm not sympathetic toward Hawkins' husband's conduct. His behavior was unfaithful. In marriage, there's no hedging allowed.

Over the past few decades we've come to accept far too much self-serving looseness in these matters. For instance, it's become common to consider it the height of honesty when parents tell their children they were adopted. Bunk. You're in, or you're out. They're your children, or they're not. If you adopted them, it's cowardly to weasel-word out of the responsibility to throw one's whole heart and soul into their upbringing.

Also, these days we may need to guard against new forms of emotional distancing. One is the heavy use of internet pron. Another is the "work husband" or "work wife", where there's a special relationship between male and female at work.

I wonder if our communications technology is a threat to our commitment. I recall someone writing that he had watched four young people walk down the street together, and all were talking - but not to each other. They were on their devices. They weren't emotionally present for each other, and seemed comfortable with that norm. In such situations, the message to present companions seems to be, "You're entitled to some of me, but not all of me. I expect you to be cool with that." Like today's dilution of the word "friend", it doesn't speak well of our respect for the need to be able to trust and depend on someone else. Maybe we've become intoxicated with our own sense of limitless choice.

Anonymous said...

Seems there's much more condemnation of those engaging in physical or even emotional affairs than those who behave in extremely destructive ways to their spouses without involving a 3rd party of the opposite sex. For example, a woman who reacts to a husband's career crisis (not caused by bad action or omission on his part) by screaming "you're such a loser" at him is being unfaithful: absolutely as much as if she had a physical not just emotional affair. And I guarantee you there is a LOT of this going on in today's economy.

The "love" and "honor" parts of the marriage vows seems to get less attention than the "forsaking all others" part. They are more subjective, but this doesn't mean they're less important.\

Very often I hear women positively SNARLING at their husbands in tones no one should use to a dog or a hog. (Sometimes it is the husband doing the snarling, but 70% of the time in upper middle class areas it is the wife.) Yet these same women, if their husband had even an emotional affair with another woman, would feel entirely like wounded innocents.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Great points... I am especially impressed by the insight that snarling spouses are really showing that they no longer respect their vows.

Anonymous said...

I would not blame technology, although it makes it a whole lot easier ( old flames "poke" you late night on FB when you are away in business)
But in the end, just like I don't blame guns for shooting people, I don't blame cell phones for drunk texting to another woman, FB messaging, emailing when you need an extra pick-me-up..
Emotional and physical affairs are a very real part of our society, and we only have the two people in the affair to blame.
I agree with the commenter above, the other parts of the vows are also important to keep. If one has a tough time at work, a wife does NOT call him a loser! Unacceptable too...
All the aspects of the vows to be kept...
Love, honor, cherish...

Anonymous said...

So are we to assume that flirty emails and texts are equivalent to a full-blow romantic affair, including what seems to be trivialized in the previous discussion, sex? I am somewhat puzzled by the argument put forward (usually by women) that sex really isn't the issue, but that connection is. Is not there some sort of "bright-line" that is crossed when clothes come off and hotel room are booked repeatedly?

Anonymous said...

I'm an "n" of one, so take this answer for just one...
I'd give my guy one second chance after an emotional affair.
I'd give him his suitcases after a physical affair...
If that helps with perspective...

Stuart Schneiderman said...

All perspectives are welcome. The point that was raised was not so much an affair, which would presumably include an emotional and a physical connection, but a one-night-stand. Do you think that a one-night-stand is worse than a budding online romance?

Anonymous said...

Right. I think that a one night stand and a true emotional affair are about equally as bad. Having sex outside of marriage shows a pretty obvious disregard of one's wedding vows and a lack of respect for the spouse (assuming of course there isn't some prior agreement that this sort of thing is allowed). An emotional affair likely stems from a bit of self-deception that morphs into deception, and again into a disregard of vows and lack of respect. The issue here is that in one cause it is pretty clear what is going on (unless you are Bil Clinton), but in the other it seems like it can be ambiguous. What about opposite-sex friendships (I leave out same-sex issues for a later discussion) where there is a hint of attraction (how often is that absent)? Are we to have no opposite-sex friends? Should discussions with the opposite sex only be about the weather and other casual topics?

Anonymous said...

When you have an opposite-sex friend with a "hint of attraction," I guess the only thing to do is ask yourself how far that attraction goes. I am a woman who has male friends (with NO hints of attraction, so I am not sure how "often this is present." I am happy to introduce my friends to my SO. I am happy to leave my texts, FB messages, etc. open for him to see, if these friends text or message me.
I think this might be a good indicator for someone trying to ask which side of the line you lie:
-Have you introduced these opposite-sex friends to your SO?
-Would it be OK if they saw your texts, FB messages, etc? If the answer is "no," perhaps there is something deeper that is going on after all. Or perhaps there is an issue in your primary relationship. Or ____ ?
I agree with the last anon - - a true emotional affair could be just as damaging as a one-night stand.
A relationship without trust doesn't stand much of a chance...

Anonymous said...

Anonomous at 8:05
So we have friends of opposite sex, and we have attraction to them.
But we are already married to someone else.
What topics are you suggesting we talk about?
Should we discuss that we are attracted to each other?
Should we meet up for lunch, just the two of us?
How about drinks? Happy Hour?
We are still committed to our husbands and wives?
What about the bad days we have with our husbands/wives? What if we need a shoulder to lean on during those bad days?
Should we be able to lean on these friends of opposite sex whom we are attracted to?
Maybe talk about how our spouses make us so mad? How they did such-and-such? How "you" would never do that to me if I married you...
How "I bet you and I would get along so much better than he and I do..."
Two drinks later, the conversation gets more direct.
Three drinks later, even more...
I guess we should have stuck with lunch..
It is a slippery slope...
Only you know how slippery. It depends on how solid YOUR ground is.
Each one of us has to make that choice.
Just playing devil's advocate here...

Anonymous said...

Having witnessed this firsthand, I will say that some men who have emotional affairs could also be getting everything possible at home.
Admiration, sex, love, nurturing.
Somehow, the most narcissistic seem to want even more...
In the limited experiences (thankfully) I have had, it has been insecure, but highly narcissistic men who take all they can at home and then get even more outside the marriage. They simply need that much more feeding of their ego than the average male, for some reason. They simply need that much more external assurance. They don't seem to be able to find internal assurance. They have to seek external validation.
IMHO...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 10:51 -- It may well be a difference between the sexes: the probability of a male with a female friend with "NO" hint of attraction on the part of the male is virtually nil (just repressed). That said,the issue wasn't what do you do when there is "NO" attraction, but when the attraction is greater than zero. Your suggestions for testing the situation are very good ones.
Anonymous at 11:00 -- the slope indeed is slippery, but we are human and don't live cloistered lives. Best to figure out how to manage that particular situation well in advance (see Dan Ariely's work on decision making after things have gotten heated).

Anonymous said...

True on the narcissism point. Reminds me of Ted Turner and his relationship with Jane Fonda. Ted expressed his love, faithfulness and devotion to her during the courtship. Then they got married. After one month, he was again on the prowl of conquest... outside his marriage bed. Pretty sad.

But that's the way these things work for some men. And there are lots of women who willfully delude themselves into believing in their feminine mystique's power to bring such men to "the light." Talk about narcissistic fantasy. Turner had an extensive résumé in this area of life, along with two failed marriages. And Fonda, no stranger to narcissistic fantasy in myriad life examples, stayed with him for ten years, despite knowing about Ted's trysts. Pretty sad.

So how do we navigate the human condition and protect our human commitments from our powerful biological drives? I don't have a sure answer, and I'm not alone in the annals of history. At the same time, I recognize the male biological instinct, and it is a cross we bear at times. I am saying this as a statement of fact. Facebook, chat rooms, online porn and cell phones are the latest tools to connect, making the world smaller and effectively making the search for suitable extramarital companionship easier. And let's not forget that no one put a gun to this guy's head. Maybe he was just looking for "enhanced friendship," and not much more. Pretty sad.

Speaking of "looking," I do share Stuart's amazement that Ms. Hawkins took her tale of betrayal to such a large audience. Her mode of catharsis will deepen the humiliation. Yet that seems to be standard operating procedure in a media culture that invites the downtrodden to bare their soul, to the voyeuristic delight of readers everywhere. Dirty linen, or an opportunity for more attention? Who is narcissistic now? Pretty sad.

To that end, my additional wish is that women would honor their own part in these events of infidelity and leave the victim crap out of it. There are sleazy guys out there, and the rationalization of "seduction" is an old-fashioned excuse, which doesn't amount to much. We're talking about adults here, and adults are responsible for their choices with affairs of the heart, and the wreckage they leave behind... one night stand or online romance notwithstanding. Again, in the end, it's all pretty sad.

There is so much loneliness in modern life, and I think we'd better wake up to the realization that a glowing box is not a substitute for meaningful human relationship. If you think I'm missing something here, please look around you the next few days. Observe your fellow human beings, who are so desperate to connect, and who settle for luminous pixels to deliver this most basic human need. It doesn't work. And that's pretty sad, ain't it?

Tip

Stuart Schneiderman said...

While we're thinking about these issues... in an exceptionally good and intelligent set of comments... let's keep in mind that the Hawkins husband and Lorna met at work. We are living in a world where men and women who are more or less equals develop friendly relationships on the job. They sometimes go out together; they travel together; they might even confide in each other.

Worse yet, sometimes women are flirtatious because they are naturally flirtatious. Men are likely to feel very flattered and are also likely to misread the signals.

And then, some women are looking for mates of their own and, faced with a choice between a mass of anonymous men on Match.com and men they know well from working together... it ends up being an accident waiting to happen.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, Stuart. At the same time, the biggest issue of our time is the function of commitments in our society, and the individual's ethical responsibility to respect those commitments as sacred. This is the most important component of a healthy, functioning society: mutual resect for sacred commitments. And it takes everyone being on board to make it work. It requires a shared understanding of boundaries, areas where "thou shalt not tread." I'm aware that he word "NO" is out of favor today, and phrases like "thou shalt..." sound like mystical emanations from a burning bush. Yet we've got to right the ship, because we risk becoming animals when we just unquestioningly act on our own emotional and physical urges.

The breakdown in modern American society is that we have abanoned a shared social code. I'm not speaking of a legal framework, but an agreed understanding about the value of commitment and integrity as human social constructs. If we are to have men and women working together in the same workplace (the modern one you describe), then we must evolve our social framework to respect sacred commitments, whether civil or religious. Otherwise, the basic idea of the family as the core social unit will implode, and we will look or mommies and daddies elsewhere (and never grow up). If that happens, we're screwed, because the only other duct tape we can use is law, and we've seen how well that's worked the last 50 years. Government intervention (beyond setting basic standards such as licenses) is horribly inefficient way to run a society. It doesn't work. People have to navigate socially based on mutual understanding, not pieces of paper and litigation.

The American system was established as a Constitutionally-limited federal republic. It guarantees the citizen fundamental rights to act. It was set up with specific enumerated powers to the federal government, devolving the rest to the state and/or the people. Nifty, huh? But there's a catch: the system is fundamentally reliant on a virtuous, industrious citizenry. Otherwise, it doesn't work. I'm not intending this to be a civics lesson, but I ask you all: how can our freedoms and liberties endure if we don't respect the demands those rights place on us to act virtuously? I don't see how it's possible.

So if our mainstream media culture mocks virtuous people (or, worse, represents them as manifestations of boredom), glorifies plainly anti-social behavior, holds that "who's got the power?" is the only purpose of a newscast, denigrates meaningful questions as "below the audience's capacity," and panders to every aggrieved group's feelings... how can the Republic endure as such? A republic means the people are sovereign. How's it going? We're distracting and amusing ourselves to death.

Rights carry responsibilities. Natural law says that if you do not use things in accordance with their nature, chaos will result. If we have developed a culture that ignores, diminishes or eschews sacred commitments, we're screwed. It's that simple. Our social norms need to catch-up with the tools at our disposal, or our tools will become instruments for anti-social behavior or, worse, ends in themselves.

I do not expect the political class to address these things because such a subject requires courage. I do not expect media interests to mention them, because the constant parade of glowing oddities and novelties make them fat and happy. No, any healthy society will have to take this up on its own, at the true grassroots level. And those who do will have to be courageous, tough and determined, because their character and motives will be viciously attacked. Yet these will be the men and women we need... now. And they will be long remembered for turning things around. We must abandon the "Age of the Abdication of Personal Responsibility." It can only start in America.

Tip

Anonymous said...

Wow!
Tip, I always enjoy reading your comments on Stuart's blog (as I enjoy Stuart's posts)
But this, by far, is my favorite.
You have hit the nail right on the head.

Dennis said...

Amazing how it all comes down to PERSONAL responsibility. No society can exist without INDIVIDUALS who are willing to be individuals.
It is the group mindset that is divisive.
Well put Tip. Its not like a number of us haven't mentioned it before in every possible venue. Just think how many problems we face would be solved or ameliorated if people just took responsibility for their actions. It is truly mind boggling that we abdicate so much of our responsibilities to a government instead of ourselves that we seem not to understand the loss of freedom that flows away from us each time we do.

JP said...

Oh, Jungian active imagination and synchronicity, where would I be without you?

Tip's correct that the last Spiritual Awakening sliced through the entire set of social norms.

However, that's what *always* happens.

Otherwise, we would still be living in the High Middle Ages.

(I see that I'm still being used to help Google maps tell what house numbers they are photographing.)

Anonymous said...

We'd actually be living in the Garden of Eden, J.P. The Fall meant that we had to re-adjust to a new reality, one of pain and toil. We did. Now we are acting is though we are exempt... that "they" (whoever "they" are) will always bail us out.

And the last Spiritual Awakening was a mere adventure, a dalliance if you will. It was spiritual exploration, without any commitment to a life path. What emerged was a life of make-believe, a life without consequences. It was all about words, not congruent actions and re-alignment of one's life. This is distinct from the First and Second Spiritual Awakenings in America, when people actually changed their lives. Look at how incongruent Boomer lives are today from the 1960s values they espoused.

What is different this time around with evolving social norms (which, as you said, are always changing) is that people are insulated from the consequences of their actions. Their anti-social, unproductive behavior is subsidized by other people. One didn't have access to welfare, bridge cards, WIC, and 99+ weeks of unemployment insurance during previous social shifts. Things happened, and people adjusted to them within the same boundaries that have existed for time immemorial (or at least since The Fall). It required a revision of pieces of the social contract and a refitting of the culture. I assert people are not living with that same pressure today, and that this is new because there is no countervailing social force to bring things back to center. The only way that will happen is for the current economic system (built as it is on subsidy) collapses... and then we're in for a world of hurt.

In the end, the truth will set you free. Man can only deny his own nature for so long.

Tip