My wife will never read this blog.
Not that there's anything in the blog that would offend her, or even that she would disagree with. But yesterday, she told me it was over. The marriage? No; after 25 years, we're still plugging along. What's over, she said, is anymore talk of my new book!
This month The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity became available in bookstores, and in the spirit of making sure that everyone who would benefit from the book is aware that fact, I have spent a lot of time promoting it. Not only has this required early morning, late evening or weekend interviews (I have one midnight interview, “The Bill Ayers Show," coming up on the night of June 23, 2013!) It also means I've been traveling quite a bit, and spending hours on my computer writing blogs like this one.
Last week, after my whirlwind tour of D.C., Susan sat me down and told me that she's just not happy with how things are going. I'll skip though all the steps of our discussion and cut to the chase: according to my wife, I'm having an affair with my new book!
What my wife means to say is that much of my time my energy and emotions are being devoted to the marketing of my book, and as a consequence, she feels cheated of what is rightfully hers. And when you don't pay attention to a relationship, it suffers.
My behavior, and her reaction to my turning my emotional energy away from the marriage, got me thinking about how affairs are defined, and whether one can truly "cheat" on a partner without even having another person involved. Does "faithful" mean that you devote one's body and your mind to a partner exclusively at all times? Sounds ideal, but once the honeymoon is over, the plane lands at the local airport, the couple grab a cab and head back home. Eventually someone's got to get the body to work every day, and had better bring the mind along. No one would argue that going off to work is tantamount to cheating, so such a succinct definition of infidelity just doesn't work.
What about defining cheating as deciding to do (as opposed to having to do) a behavior that results in a depletion of energy for the marriage? While that sounds nice and neat, it's also impractical. If I spend my week's vacation installing a fence around my house, it will certainly leave me wiped out by the time I settle in for the night, but it's hard to argue that I'm having an affair with the posthole digger.
Let's add, then, a third component: that this non-work behavior has to happen repeatedly, and must have a negative impact on the relationship: included in this definition are stamp collecting, getting absorbed in romance novels every evening, and regular golf outings. Does such a person fall into the category of "cheater"? Many spouses would say they do, and feel very much like the have lost their spouse to these extra-marital activities. We've heard the term "golf widow," can the term "romance novel cuckold" be far behind?
Our evolving definition of "cheating," then, shapes up to include the following: 1) the behavior takes time and energy away from the marriage, 2) it is not work-related, 3) it happens repeatedly and is not of any benefit to the spouse. Imbedded in all these elements, though, is a concern on the part of the spouse that the person doing the behavior cares for his or her activity than for the spouse.
Am I guilty, then, of having an affair with my new book? I would argue no. My writing is a form of work. I have researched relationships and infidelity for over a decade; by sharing my findings with others, I can help them. That's one of the reasons I became a doctor. But even if it were an uncontrolled and unrewarding compulsion, is it still an affair?
As I reflect on how to pin down this label of infidelity, it occurs to me that, at minimum, one of two elements that would shift these activities into the category of "affair." 1. Sex, or 2. Reciprocity.
Take my book. The Secrets of Surviving Infidelity is an inanimate object, and, it is not something that I use as a means to provide sexual pleasure for myself. However, if some person compulsively obtains sexual release from an inanimate object like a porn magazine or Internet sex videos, one could make the case that he or she is unfaithful to his or her spouse. (Not everyone sees it that way, because some would argue that since no other living being was involved, it wasn't true infidelity.) It's reasonable for a spouse to object to excessive involvement in pornography.
Which brings us to reciprocity. When a person spends hours mounting stamps in a book or writing blogs for a website the emotion and effort flows in one direction only. The stamp will never become emotionally bonded to the philately, and the website will never develop a longing for the input of its webmaster. Contrast this to a married individual who spends evenings on Facebook IMing an old high school sweetheart or sending friendly texts to a co-worker. In this case, while sex is not presumably an issue—at least at this point in the interchange—the object of a spouse's obsession is a living, sentient being, and that person is likely to have an emotional response to all the attention he or she is getting.
I reject the accusation of having an affair with my book, but I accept the underlying premise: my book promotion has taken time away from my marriage. For that reason, I'll end my blog entry here, and get back to my wife.