“I’ve always loved you and when you love someone you love the whole person just as he or she is and not as you would like them to be,” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.
Jesus Christ, whose sermon on the mount Tolstoy tried his entire life to emulate morally and spiritually but never succeeded, resulted in Tolstoy being diagnosed with “moral exhaustion” in his final days. Christ, in reference to an adulterous woman who was brought before him, said to his followers, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Convicted by their own conscience and personal guilt they all went their separate ways.
The capacity to forgive and the ability to understand our own foibles and human nature is at the core of being able to love others unconditionally. The failures and weaknesses of others are, really, a reflection of who we are collectively as a species. If two individuals truly and sincerely love each other, should an act of infidelity or several acts for that matter become a criterion for ending their contractual agreement of “’tll death do us part”?
Love is an all-encompassing force and does not require the presence or absence of certain conditions for its expression and transmission. The law of loving others cannot be discovered by reason because it is unreasonable.
The disapprobation of infidelity and its accompanying distastes are a social construct and convention conceptualized with a suspicious air of power and control. It contradicts our biological nature and no amount of intellectualizing, moralizing or theologizing can prove or disprove whether promiscuous polygamy rather than faithful monogamy is the norm of human sexual behavior.
Public reproach and scorn for infidelity is a cultural phenomenon whose prevalence is perpetuated and sustained in societies and cultures that use theology as a basis of ethics. Its disapproval and opposition to its practice inhibits the fulfillment of harmless impulsive desires. Irrational resistance to infidelity removes human agency from those who are unable to be themselves, those who lack the courage to be perfect in their own imperfections, the courage that is reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dignified fictional character Hester Prynne proudly displaying the letter A around her neck marking her as an adulteress, a grim and stark reminder of 18th century puritanism and Victorian sexual attitudes.
Marriage has not and will not succeed in curing or taming our powerful instinctual desires and religious, ethical or moral training will never prove enough to help us eject aspects of ourselves we were conditioned to turn on and dislike. As Nietzsche said, affirm life, welcome life in all its complexities and forms of human representation. It is utterly absurd and preposterous to reject what until now is considered a normal form of human behavior. How can we say with any degree of certainty that we weren’t biologically determined to be sexually debauched creatures and therefore lack inherent self-control to render our instinctual desires subservient to a legal monogamous marriage contract?
Infidelity in marriages doesn’t necessarily have to have as its primary motivation an unfulfilled or curious sexual appetite as there could be other underlying needs that enable sexual encounters outside of marriage. Sex could very well be the secondary effect of some other primary cause. It is quite understandable that in a society where sex is overrated and often placed on a pedestal, it can have the negative effect of overshadowing the principal causes of infidelity in marriages. Our biological nature and social needs are so complex and vast that the totality of our desires and wants has hitherto remain largely unknown to us. So, as we continue to evolve, we will inevitably be attracted and drawn to others for reasons we cannot explain, or which simply defy logic.
Marriages that enjoy the above often have a higher threshold of tolerance for unwanted extramarital experiences, which then helps to create space for forgiveness, growth and maturity. Zero tolerance, public condemnation and religious renunciation for infidelity can negatively influence the blossoming of healthy marital relationships, effectively causing marriages to remain stuck without the possibility for reconciliation. And besides, when does one become guilty of infidelity? Does it occur at the level of thought? Or does it become a reality when there is bodily entanglement. What’s the ultimate human value, is it the immaterial mind or soul or rather our material embodiment (body)?