Mathias was a German I dated in ’07 while he was on a break with his girlfriend. I didn’t find out I’d been in break territory until a week ago, when I ran into Mathias and he told me he’d gotten back together with his fräulein for the fourth time in their ten year relationship. Apparently, I was one of several women he’d strayed with. Seemed his girlfriend occasionally drifted, too.
But Mathias didn’t see these infidelities as evidence he was either a) in the wrong relationship or b) a no-good cheat.
“The affairs are a good thing,” he told me. “It makes our love stronger.”
When I lived in Germany, I met both men and women who were involved in full-blown affairs with people in supposedly committed relationships with other folks. Like Mathias, these committed individuals seemed utterly devoted to their partners, believing fully in the longevity of their relationships and doing everything in their power to maintain them…with the exception of remaining faithful.
Certainly, most people want loyalty from their lovers. But generally speaking, there’s a lot less hoopla around infidelity in Europe.
Back in the States, of course, anyone who cheats we consider definitely not in love with his or her partner. Any relationship riddled with affairs we assume completely lacks intimacy and is destined to fail.
However, it seemed for some Europeans I met the opposite was true. Plenty of the couples I saw together seemed to share an intimacy with their partners I watched with agonized longing. The closeness European couples seem to have evidently comes from being together for ages, weathering storms and consequently knowing each other so fully that losing one another might be like losing a best friend, therapist and favorite blankie at the same time.
But the cheating seemed to give these dynamic duos a peculiar kind of intimacy. I envisioned tortured lovers extracting themselves from heated affairs, followed by sobby, beseeching confessions, passionate fights, unbearable separations and teary eyed reunions. The guilt and ensuing protectiveness the cheater must feel toward the cheatee, and the cheatee’s wound which only the partner can heal, must be a quite torturous but strengthening seal. The fact they’re both hurting and healing each other on a regular basis seems to add a brutal intensity to their bond, making it addictive, seeping with feeling and wholly impossible to sever. For those who don’t admit their infidelities, the protectiveness may be a mark of devotion, as in the case of Mathias, who kept valiantly declaring it his duty to protect his girlfriend, needless to say, from himself.
Going through that emotional upheaval and subsequent calm together time and time again, could undoubtedly be enough to keep two people psychologically conjoined for decades. The jilted lover, or the sin of temptation itself, acts as the evil force against which the couple defend themselves, only bolstering them as an impenetrable whole.
According to Mathias, cheating stirred his loins, allowing him to bring freshness to his “real” relationship. It also acted as an agent of change keeping both he and his woman on their toes and preventing the relationship from getting stale.
“Sleeping with you will do wonders for my relationship with my girlfriend,” Mathias once told a woman. Unfortunately, he didn’t get her in the sack.
Still I wonder if these Europeans are onto something. With our constantly shifting lifestyles in a world of temptation and sexual liberation, is it more realistic to admit complete fidelity is unfeasible? That boning other people and leaving a smidgeon of yourself with them, is nothing compared to the profound entanglement you can have with a partner for years? Is it best to choose one person and deign to stay with them come Hell or high water?
There are many things I wish we could import from Europe. Universal health coverage. Artsy, melodramatic cinema. Soccer. But I dunno…maybe the “affairs” thing should stay across the pond.