I recently shared a meal with some acquaintances. The conversation turned to how relationships start. Someone explained, amid much laughter from the group, how she tried everything to get away, but eventually realized that someone was Mr. Right and perfect for her. That moment changed her life.
One of the men nodded, and agreed that one just know when someone is right. He had the same feeling when he met his girlfriend a few months before.
I knew the man was married, but in England there is this weird situation where you get divorced in stages – like cutting off the tail of a dog bit by bit, so that it will hurt less? And form what I can gather British people generally do not wait for the process to end before they move on to a different relationship.
When I asked sympathetically how long the man had been separated from his wife, he said no, he is happily married. He then told me that in the UK it is “traditional” for a man to have a mistress. He also said that his wife was aware of his “lady friends” but she has no idea how intimate these “friendships” are, and that kept them both happy.
That did not really surprise me. A few months after I arrived in the UK, I went to visit a lady in her 80’s when she was recovering in hospital after an operation. We were talking about the news of the day, which had something to do with the accident in which princess Diana died. I must have said something about Diana (I cannot remember the entire conversation) but that triggered a tirade against Diana because “she did not know her place, she was not royal, and she complained about nothing and embarrassed the royal family, because a man, and especially a prince, is fully entitled to his ‘bit on the side'”.
I was astonished at the time, not so much about what the old lady said, but because I got to know her as a very Christian person and a staunch supporter of the Church of England. But then the Church of England has its roots in the actions of King Henry VIII who had a wandering eye and believed that his rules were the only rules, especially when it came to women.
I was not quite sure what to think about this man who seems to be an intelligent, decent man who gets on well with everybody.
However, outside of work you would think that he is a predator that finds vulnerable women, tells them that he is married and intends to remain so, and then has a relationship with them that obviously excludes children and many other means of sharing a life. Those women know that they cannot make any claim on his time or how he lives his life, because society will turn against the women as being home-wreckers. Few people will question the motives of a happily married man.
I am not convinced that his wife really knows nothing about these other women (it turned out there were two of them at the time, and he really has to juggle his social schedule to get round to everyone and ensure that he is not discovered).
Is this about morality? That is what most people would think.
However, I am convinced that it is about balance. The husband finds other women because he is missing some balance in his life. He does not have much in common with his wife (I overheard conversations where he was perfectly civil and friendly with her, but he could not remember which day of the week she has a half-day job). This does not matter to him because by the time he gets home she is there, waiting for him. With his mistresses, on the other hand, he always knows where they are – and this is important because he does not want them to run into each other or into his wife. That is balance.
Where is the balance for the wife? She is financially dependent on her husband. If she leaves him, she will have to find a job to maintain herself. If she values having loads of free time without her husband (that may even include a relationship with another man) and being maintained by a man, then she is satisfied. However, this will only be the position when she values those things above fidelity and honesty.
Where is the balance for the mistress? Her need for sex is satisfied, and she has the excitement of an illicit relationship as well as companionship. At the same time she has an admirer that is not there all the time, which gives her freedom. As long as these values outrank the values of for example having children or having a relationship based on trust, then she is happy.
Most often when a relationship comes to an end, it is because the values of the two partners clash. Sometimes people get into a relationship with clashing values, and they quickly move from infatuation to resentment and the end of the relationship. Other times people with different values have a relationship, and they grow and learn from one another.
When you look at the satisfaction of values in a marriage rather than at the document that makes it a marriage, the picture looks different. And the same holds for other relationships like employment or friendship as well.
Next time I will withhold my judgment and rather add to my understanding.