The Venus Flytrap: Infidelity Is In The Eye Of The Beholder


Infidelity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The lines we draw and how we negotiate them are all that varies between who we think we are and what we could be capable of. We are all that person.

What wounds me most may be nothing to you; what devastates you may be a mere trifle to me. The trick lies somewhere between hopscotching around the bare nerves in the battlefield of relationships and pretending they don’t exist, or subverting them altogether.

The old rules didn’t work. Women wept, men slept (around). No one asked, no one told. But no one needs that anymore. We are each more independent as individuals today than we have been throughout civilization. Nothing high-maintenance makes it, only that which is straightforward and obvious in its function survives. The single exception to this rule is love.

But what constitutes cheating? It varies from couple to couple, from context to context. The man in the sexless marriage who stays with his wife for the sake of his child but keeps a bachelor pad is no worse than the woman who claims eternal devotion to her boyfriend but has intense emotional affairs with other people. The loving gay couple with the everything-but-the-kiss rule may be truer and more loyal to one another than the anything-but-the-physical rule so many relationships abide by.

Our moral spectrums are like rubber bands. We believe they hold things together, but it shocks us how much they can accommodate. Circumstance and opportunity bend us, reshape us, twist up all we know of ourselves and deliver us – changed but wholly the same.

And yes, we have all seen it – the way the heart shatters, the jealousy, the rumours, the tragedy. We’ve had it done to us, we’ve watched it unfold its heartbreak within our families and the lives of our friends. We believe it is the worst thing anyone could do, a crime against love, the deadliest sin. And then we do.

And then know, in a way we never knew before, a way in which we never dared to know ourselves before: loyalty is not about what one does with one’s body. It’s about what one does with one’s mind.

Once, I knew a man who thought he could believe in an open relationship only in theory, never in practice. Once, I knew a woman who thought she would never be with anyone but him. Today they live in separate countries, and she is Leonard Cohen’s Gypsy Wife. And who he is, whether he too climbs the table in that dark, dangerous café, or remains on the threshing floor with an arm raised for the bride’s bouquet, she does not dare to ask now.

And so what? If that to them is the only way they know how to love (themselves, one another, others), then leave them to it. I’m with the writer Lisa Carver on this one: “We need the guilt, the mystery, the corrosion of our heart and its rebirth.” I can’t speak for the man I once knew, but I know his gypsy wife does.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.

18 responses »

  1. I was a fan. Now I am not anymore. I’m a devotee.

    How do you do it? How do you read minds?

  2. Very relevant to the times we live in. I read it once, and then read it out loud all over again…for it to sink in. Beautiful.

  3. “our moral spectrums are like rubber bands…”
    loved everything that came after it, i mean the way it is written.

  4. You are relativism personified… our moral spectrums are like rubber bands? Yours maybe, mine are based on an objective truth.

  5. Women wept, men slept (around)

    If men slept around, then with whom? Other men?
    If other women, then “women” [sic] were not necessarily “weeping” ( One takes it you imply sorrow ), unless, of course, you mean tears of orgasm-induced delight.

    Platitudinous, cliched and generalising for no rhyme or reason. It is another matter that it seems to have touched quite a few emotional chords above. Speaks for us, rather eloquently – No?

  6. As someone here rightly said your article is about relativism. As for Infidelity, no matter how many theories or opinions it carries, it all boils down to who gets hurt. At an individual level. Every individual or couple is responsible for what they do. If they do something wrong, they suffer. Betrayal, cheating, infidelity does hurt the affected person. I pinch you. I hurt you. It is as simple as that. And inflicting pain is something so obviously wrong.

  7. Good on you for accepting stupid comments ! :-)

    Some monkey has blogged saying that you are hot. Typical Indian men — confounded by beauty and brains in the same package.

  8. “The loving gay couple with the everything-but-the-kiss rule”
    i was reminded instantly of that tv show, ‘queer as folk’ and of the characters, brian & justin.

  9. “Platitudinous”? Someone desperately wants a column of their own.

    Thristhi podufying is called for, Ms. (Mrs?) M.

  10. People love to judge. They’ll look at a person stepping foot outside of a monogomous relationship and automatically exclaim “Scandal! That’s wrong!” Ask them what is wrong about it and they say that the person is being unfaithful. But what is “unfaithful”, and does it bend and accomodate according to the situation? The answer, of course, is that, like so many other beliefs, the term must change according to the situation. I have been in a situation where I was too weak and afraid to let go, half a country away, and suffering from an abusive relationship, so I found comfort in someone else. Would one still be able to unleash a torrent of abuses on the “evil” in this act? I’m older and wiser now, and in the future know that it’s better to let go than to hold on to something that’s not even there anymore, but at the time it was my only choice.
    Several examples exist like this. Married couples that stay together just for the child; can you realistically expect them to stay within the unhappy relationship without even a thought to finding love or carnal pleasure from someone more suitable. And don’t try to give me a “try harder/ make it work/ life is about compromise” routine.
    Conversely, being cheated on is a destroying and damaging situation. It’s a breaking of trust, loyalty, and love. But in such cases, the common reassurance offered by friends and family holds true: if they broke your heart, then they werent good for you, anyways.
    I want the truth at all times, I expect honest answers, down to the little itty bitty details, but I’m a journalist and it’s expected. When it comes to relationships, sometimes ignorance is bliss. The old addage “what they don’t know can’t hurt them” can hold true in certain scenarios. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a noise? If you sleep with someone else other than your boyfriend, and no one knows, is it still wrong?
    Because the reality is, sometimes to salvage a relationship, you need perspective and comparison.
    There’s a truth in life: people change, their views change, and sometimes it’s better for all parties involved if one, or both members, divulge in a little bit of “unfaithful”. And, if possible and always more beneficial, break up.

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