It’s the stuff of daytime soaps, country music lyrics and French cinema, and it usually ends badly. There’s no good way to cheat on your spouse, is there?
Not true, says controversial sociologist Catherine Hakim. In a recent op-ed in The Telegraph, Hakim says that a “playfair,” with clearly defined rules and zero expectations that either partner will leave their spouse, is perfectly okay. In fact, she writes, it can be a healthy outlet for unmet expectations of intimacy at home - as long as everyone understands the parameters.
Just as the pill freed both men and women to break long-held taboos against premarital sex, the internet has changed the concept of dating for both singles and the well-hitched. Married people can now meet others who are outside their social circle and out for a fling, giving them ample opportunity to quietly arrange for a matinee or a weekend away. Other countries are way ahead of Britain and the U.S. in this respect, says Hakim. Nordic countries embrace “parallel relationships,” French couples accept that “adventures” are a part of married life. But are U.S attitudes towards l’affair shifting?
Hakim joined AirTalk to discuss her controversial ideas, shedding some light on her findings and conclusions.
“I noticed there have sprung up a whole variety of websites dedicated to marital dating,” she explained, referring to the sites dedicated to the “playfairs” she discusses in her soon-to-be-released book, The New Rules: Internet Dating, Playfairs and Erotic Power. “I was interested in exploring why this has happened, why there are so many new websites, who are the people who go down this road, what happens when they go down this road.”
Some online dating sites now cater to married men and women who are strictly in the market for a dalliance. And Hakim says the “security, anonymity, and discretion” of the internet is making such extramarital affairs all the more appealing -- users meet partners without risking being caught or hurting loved ones.
“Before people would only meet colleagues at work, in the neighborhood, family, et cetera, and of course, affairs in that context would be disastrous because people would notice. But through the websites people are meeting complete strangers,” Hakim explained. “They make sure the people they are going to meet are not going to be people related or connected to them in any way. … These tend to be affairs that are kept discreet, that don’t affect the main marital relationship and in many cases solve problems of marital relations gone sour, sex-starved marriages, or celibate marriages.”
On the phones and online listeners seemed to overwhelming disagree with Hakim. One user, Kat Lilore said wrote:
“I'm bothered by the lack of a third option to the two implied premises of: find extramarital relief so as to stay in an unhappy marriage, or ultimately leave. How about working on the marriage? Ostensibly you chose your partner because they satisfied you and you they; if things have soured or dulled, communication & effort would seem the prescription...”
However, there were individuals who said they had experienced the positive effects of extramarital affairs.
One man detailed how he had been the “other person” in the relationship, and in the end, it was only about mutual satisfaction -- the woman always returned to her husband and children. However, he admitted he may not be so keen on the idea if he had been the one cheated on.
Hakim says she is not proposing there is a more “progressive” idea of marriage, only that there are two models -- an Anglo-Saxon model based on absolute fidelity, and the continental European idea of possible infidelity and forgiveness because marriage is based on longevity and responsibility, not solely sex.
“The people who go on these websites are not seeing [marriage counselors],” she said. “They are people who define their marriage as happy and contented and working very well. They wouldn’t dream of turning up in the offices of counselors.
Some online dating sites now cater to married men and women who are strictly in the market for a dalliance. Is having an affair an acceptable way to “fill in the blanks” in a marriage that has outlived its sexual vitality? Could you accept your spouse having a bit on the side, if it meant you could do the same? Have you explored the idea yourself?
Catherine Hakim, author of the forthcoming book The New Rules: Internet Dating, Playfairs and Erotic Power (Gibson Square Books); social scientist at the Centre for Policy Studies and author of numerous books, including Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and in the Bedroom (Basic Books)