We recently sent out a batch of questions to our Formspring friends. One of these questions asked whether the recipient considered physical infidelity or emotional infidelity the greater offense. Our fellow bloggers have begun answering, and in light of their thoughtful answers we felt the need to address the topic as well.
I must state for the record that we don't judge others for the nature of their relationships, whether faithful or otherwise. As much as it goes against all of the social conditioning that's been drummed into our minds all our lives, someone else's relationship is not sufficiently our business to pass judgment. We don't like to make assumptions, and when we hear about an extramarital affair we acknowledge that there may be extenuating circumstances that justify or excuse the behavior. This is obviously not always the case, but perhaps it is. Keeping this possibility in mind, we don't hurl epithets at cheaters who have not cheated on us personally. Thus, what follows applies to our relationship, and may not apply to any others.
Well, we'll hurl an epithet if you're a hypocritical ass in addition to being a cheater.
Communication is one of the most important components of our marriage. We keep no secrets from each other, nor do we want any. Beyond the fact that I'm notoriously lousy at keeping secrets from my wife, being completely honest helps further the notion that the openness of our relationship - to the extent that it is open; it really isn't - exists to bring us closer together as a couple, as has always been our goal. That means that if you and I have ever exchanged a sexy IM conversation, Jill probably read it after the fact. And you probably inspired some really hot sex, so thanks!
We have a very low tolerance for infidelity of any kind. It's not because the thought of our partner being physically intimate with another person hurts us; far from that. It's because "infidelity" refers to a lack of loyalty exemplified by hiding something or otherwise stepping outside the limits that we have set for ourselves and each other. We consider this unacceptable. Because of this, we consider any infidelity, whether physical or emotional, to be something from which we might be incapable of recovering. At the very least, while it would hopefully be easy enough to address the fact that there is a deficiency in our relationship, we imagine that we would have a difficult time picking up the pieces, so to speak, and repairing what is broken.
We suspect that many people aren't even aware of emotional infidelity as a concept. There are those who are so hung up on physical infidelity and what an egregious offense it is in the context of a monogamous relationship that very little heed is paid to emotional infidelity. But it can be just as severe a threat to a relationship as physical cheating, if not moreso.
Last year, GoodWill (or is it BadWill?) posted that while he is completely faithful to his wife physically, the fact that he has a blog through which he flirts with women, and in doing so manages to compensate for what is lacking in his marriage, makes him a hypocrite. We disagreed somewhat; he's a man in an unfortunate situation, married to a woman whose sex drive and interest level don't come close to matching his own. In flirting with women in a relatively safe online environment, he's doing what he needs to do in order to remain physically faithful to his wife. But judging by what we suspect to be his wife's standards he has certainly been emotionally unfaithful.
A friend of mine once got dumped by his girlfriend, who met another guy while my friend was on a trip overseas. My friend was upset by this development, but he thought he could somehow save the relationship as long as his girlfriend hadn't had sex with the other guy. In his mind, if there had been no physical intimacy, he could undermine whatever emotional connection existed and get her back. The emotional connection she'd made with another guy wasn't a threat - or perhaps hadn't even occurred to him. But once he found out that they'd had sex, he no longer wanted to save the relationship. In his mind, it was irreparably broken; there was nothing left to save.
That struck me as odd: If the girl had fallen in love with the new guy, everything would have been okay with my friend as long as the relationship hadn't been consummated physically. I was much younger, somewhat insecure, and well aware of what an unforgivable breach physical infidelity was. But even then I felt that to give emotion such short shrift, and to consider one's girlfriend falling in love with another person a minor stumbling block at most, seemed very short-sighted.
Again, we consider emotional infidelity and physical infidelity equally serious offenses. But to us, sex is not exactly sacred. We've both had sex with people who meant nothing to us. However, the people we've loved or been in love with belong to a much more exclusive group. Most people don't get to join that group. In our opinion love, much more than sex, is not something to be taken for granted or given away lightly. Therefore, were Jill to find herself drawn to another person emotionally - i.e., in a fashion previously reserved for me - I would rightfully see this as a threat to our relationship. My wife doesn't give her love easily. If she feels a strong emotional connection to someone else, she must be serious about it.
More importantly, I know that if Jill has these feelings for someone else, it's because I have failed to satisfy her emotional needs as I've always promised I would. I'm reasonably certain that despite my shortcomings, including my wandering eye that frequently lands on her friends, sisters and cousins, I'll never neglect her emotions, certainly not to this point. For Jill, falling in love with someone else is an absolute last resort that occurs when crying, alcohol, and emotionless sex no longer help fill the void.
That's not to say that we'll fuck anything that comes into our line of sight. But we're more likely to have emotionless sex with someone who is not our partner (with our partner's blessing, obviously) than we are to give away our hearts. Our hearts are already spoken for. Sex can be meaningless, but to us at least, love never is. We would feel betrayed if the other had sex with someone else without our express consent. While such a betrayal would seriously undermine our relationship, it is more likely that we could recover from physical infidelity than emotional infidelity.