My Wife's Away, So I've Been Thinking about Adultery - Though Not in the Sense of Thinking about Doing It

By French, Sean | New Statesman (1996), October 16, 1998 | Go to article overview

My Wife's Away, So I've Been Thinking about Adultery - Though Not in the Sense of Thinking about Doing It


French, Sean, New Statesman (1996)


My wife has been away this week- out of the country, out of the continent - and the impeachment process against President Clinton has begun, so I've been thinking about adultery. Maybe I should clarify that. I'm not using the phrase in the sense of "I've been thinking about going down to the pub". I mean I've been thinking about it as a subject, and specifically about temptation.

I'm going to write about morality, but it could plausibly be argued that adultery is as much an issue of opportunity as it is of morality. I've not actually looked up the figures, but I would suspect that adultery is relatively common among people who stay away from home a lot (like MPs with distant constituencies, salespeople, academics who attend conferences), and even more common among people, especially men, who have an influential relationship with younger people (academics, analysts, rock stars, movie stars, casting directors). On the other hand, I would suspect that adultery is relatively uncommon among people who run corner shops with their spouses, or, for that matter, freelance writers who write at home all the time and only meet people when signing for packages at the front door.

The point I'm groping my way towards is that it is easy to blame people for committing adultery. Even among President Clinton's most ardent supporters, nobody has actually defended the specifics of his behaviour. But who deserves praise for not committing adultery? Perhaps all of us non-adulterers do. Or perhaps none of us. I remember Chrissy Iley writing in the Sunday Times that sexual fidelity within marriage was a sign of a limited imagination. This is one of those statements that the late Karl Popper might have described as unfalsifiable.

A couple stranded alone on a desert island wouldn't deserve much credit for remaining faithful, but most people would take it even further than that. A person doesn't deserve credit for remaining faithful, unless he (and I'll call him "he" from now on, for good statistical reasons) is tempted to be unfaithful. If you are so in love that you never feel any attraction to anyone but your wife, then lucky you, but you can' t expect praise for doing what you want to do anyway. The idea of resisting temptation must involve real temptation-that is, wanting to do something and then not doing it because you realise you mustn't. …

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